Dear Evan Hansen (AU - M/UK - 12A/US - PG-13)

In a Word: Challenging

Dear Evan Hansen

Ben Platt as Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, directed by Stephen Chbosky. PICTURE: © 2021 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Nearly five years ago, the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen won six Tony awards including 'Best Musical', 'Best Score' and 'Best Actor'. Now the much-lauded musical makes the leap from stage to screen, and, just like the title character, some things get broken in that jump.

Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a high school senior who suffers from acute anxiety on the first day of school. His therapist encourages him to write letters to himself, titled “Dear Evan Hansen” to cope with his daily struggles. When one his letters is found on the body of a suicide victim, Evan impulsively pretends to be the victim’s best friend. As the deception snowballs, Evan begins to receive everything he ever dreamed of: social acceptance, popularity, attention from a girl and the care of a family. However as the fragile web of lies begins to collapse, Evan must come to terms with what he has done and who he really is.

"The story explores the impact of loneliness, self doubt and anxiety that plagues so many in society. The importance of community and support is promoted as an important priority that we all need to be more aware of."

Director Stephen Chbosky (Wonder, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) has assembled an impressive cast. Ben Platt reprises his Broadway role despite being twice the age of the character he plays. Amy Adams and Julianne Moore play opposite each other as the two mothers in Evan’s life. Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) and Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, The Hate U Give) play the teenage girls that begin to orbit Evan as his popularity grows. However Platt remains quite clearly the star, immortalizing the role that earned him a Tony Award. The director recorded the vocals live on film to capture the authenticity of the performances and their emotion. This type of of film making does well to capture the skill of the cast and their musical talent.

The difficult themes of mental health, teen suicide and the dysfunction of family are topics that are often ignored, let alone given centre stage, in a musical. The writers Pasek and Paul have achieved remarkable success with La La Land and The Greatest Showman and the Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen is considered some of their finest work, tackling a challenging topic with depth and feeling. While the film makes many changes from the stage musical, the core remains intact. The story explores the impact of loneliness, self doubt and anxiety that plagues so many in society. The importance of community and support is promoted as an important priority that we all need to be more aware of.

For all its noble aims, however, the film does suffer somewhat in the translation. Several of the Broadway songs are missing from film and various changes have been made to the characters. For example, Larry (Danny Pino) is now a step-father and not the paternal father of suicide victim Connor and class president Alana has an expanded role and even gets a new song, The Anonymous Ones. The pacing of the story flows differently and the ending has been extended. While, for those unfamiliar with the stage musical, such points will go unnoticed, fans attached to the source material will find many of these changes disturbing.

Dear Evan Hansen is not an easy film to watch, the themes are challenging and there are moments that will induce cringes. However, it remains an important story to tell, as the more we are aware of depression and anxiety the better we will be equipped to help those who struggle with it.

In Australia, people looking for help or information can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text with an emotional support counsellor with the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.