By Liv Barry
Elm Staff Writer
Dear Evan Hansen, Broadway musicals shouldn’t be adapted into films, and here’s why.
Since the premiere of the Broadway musical in 2017, “Dear Evan Hansen” has been contentious.
While many praised the original production for its music and cast, it also drew criticism from mental health advocates for its damaging representation of anxiety, as well as criticism from LGBTQIA+ activists for including homophobic remarks intended to be comedic relief.
Unfortunately, even after the crew was given four years to amend the script, the film adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen” suffers from the same ailments of its source material.
When the trailer for the film dropped in May, it was widely panned by audiences who claimed that lead actor, Ben Platt — who originated the role of main character Evan Hansen on Broadway — looked far too old to be playing a high schooler.
Platt’s age aside, the film is weighed down by the unbalanced performances delivered by the main actors.
Although Platt has multiple film and television credits under his belt, including the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy and Ryan Murphy’s “The Election,” he is clearly accustomed to the over-dramatic performances needed to anchor a stage production.
While Platt’s performance in “Dear Evan Hansen” was arguably fantastic on a Broadway stage, earning him a Tony for Best Actor, it did not translate well to a screen adaptation.
In comparison to Platt’s performance, every other actor in the film felt like they were handed the same assignment but were directed to complete it in a drastically different way.
Oscar award-winning actress Amy Adams also delivered an overly-theatrical performance.
Unlike Platt, however, Adams managed to deliver a compelling performance despite its flaws.
Amandla Stenberg and Kaitlyn Dever, who both rose to prominence in the coming-of-age film genre, felt like the only two actresses who understood what needed to be brought to the table for the film.
Both had good chemistry with Platt, giving down-to-earth performances and bringing a much-needed balance to Platt’s more theatrical scenes.
Despite the handful of good performances in the film, however, the actors were only doing the best that they could with a weighty, problematic script.
Maybe it is the fault of the original Broadway production’s plot, but jarring moments plague the film, taking the audience out of the movie.
Immediately after the audience watches a family grieve over their son, Connor Murphy, who has taken his own life, the film launches into a jaunty song where Evan gives a fictional account of the deep friendship he had with Connor.
During this number, we see Connor retrospectively do the TikTok dance “The Woah” and perform K-Pop choreography from the grave.
While this number was only a blip in the film’s long runtime, Evan’s disturbing lie about befriending Connor undercuts any emotional moment in the film.
The morality of “Dear Evan Hansen” has been debated since the premiere of the Broadway musical.
Some may argue that the immorality of Evan’s lie is the point of the story, that he is supposed to be a morally gray character.
While this argument may hold up for the Broadway musical, it is crushed under the direction of the movie.
In the film, Evan is never truly held accountable for his actions. He is made out to be a sympathetic character, whose incredibly damaging lie is supposed to be understandable because of his social anxiety.
Just like every other element of the story, there is no balance in the morality of Evan’s character.
Broadway shows are vessels that are well-equipped to tell nuanced stories. Long run-times with intermissions, large production budgets, and casts trained specifically to give stage performances allow for deep storytelling.
However, when creators attempt to cram layered source material into a new, limiting format, the story is thrown off-kilter.
“Dear Evan Hansen” should serve as a warning to any Broadway production looking to find its footing as a film: please don’t.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons