Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a socially awkward teenager who has anxiety and depression. When a fellow student (Colton Ryan) at his high school commits suicide, he strikes up a relationship with the grieving family (Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Kaitlyn Dever) who believe that Evan was friends with him, even though they barely spoke.
Teenage depression and mental illness is, to put it mildly, a very tricky subject.
It's something that is deeply nuanced, requires care and sensitivity, not to mention ample space to explore it and the results are not always easy to grasp or translate into a narrative. Very often, the messiness of human emotions played out in an already turbulent time in people's lives doesn't necessarily make for good TV or movies, though it hasn't stopped anyone from trying to mine it all the same. The results have been mixed overall. Some have tried to grasp the nettle and come away with some deeply affecting, impactful stories. Others fail miserably and wind up revealing the exploitative nature that's always underneath the surface of telling stories like this. Then there's 'Dear Evan Hansen'.
How exactly is it possible to make a movie musical about such a weighty topic, kick things off with a chirpy, upbeat, showy musical number with a grown-ass man playing a nerdy teenager, and expect people to take it seriously? The amount of cringe in 'Dear Evan Hansen' is such that it would require direct intervention by various nations of the world to contain, yes, but who honestly looked at Ben Platt and thought any of this could work? His father, the executive producer of this movie, perhaps? Sure, he played the same character in the Broadway musical when he was an actual teenager, but playing it again under layers of makeup doesn't make it work. It's all so stagey and insincere that it reinforces the basic problem with 'Dear Evan Hansen' - it's all so exploitative.
In fact, Evan Hansen the character is basically a sociopath who utilises a family's trauma to make himself feel better and uses it as a springboard to spark up a relationship with the daughter. You're supposed to spend the better part of two hours rooting for this character while he literally lies to them about the nature of his relationship with their dead son and brother, sings his happy bullshit songs to everyone, and then (spoiler alert) gets found out in the last ten minutes or so only for everyone to sort of just... let him get away with it? It's incredible stuff, exactly the kind of oblivious crap that somehow makes it through the studio system.
The cast, besides Ben Platt, are all somehow wrapped up in this crap and going along with it. You get the sense that both Julieanne Moore and Amy Adams signed up for this because it gave them a chance to do a musical, not so much that they wanted to do this particular musical. Yet, even with that latitude, their performances are still flat and uninspired. Amy Adams looks like she's acting in a Hallmark Movie, while Julieanne Moore only really gets one scene to shine and has to do with her adult manchild trying his best to keep himself on the screen while she's working. Kaitlyn Dever, meanwhile, looks completely out of sorts next to Ben Platt and while their awkwardness together might be endearing if he was a few years younger, it winds up looking horribly out of place on screen.
There might have been good intentions going into 'Dear Evan Hansen' and maybe the Broadway musical was better, but absolutely none of this matters now because this adaptation is so poorly conceived and so frighteningly out of touch with reality that it's hard to wrap your head around why anyone thought it could work.