Among the recent influx of movie musicals hoping to achieve box office success, “Dear Evan Hansen” has undoubtedly been one of the most highly anticipated, especially following the stage show’s six Tony Award wins in 2017, including Best Musical. Surely hoping to receive critical acclaim and make a strong showing for awards season, “Dear Evan Hansen” touts an incredibly star-studded cast and experienced director Stephen Chbosky.
“Dear Evan Hansen” follows the story of a high schooler named Evan (Ben Platt) who suffers from severe social anxiety, struggling to connect to others. In its promotional materials, “Dear Evan Hansen” seems to parade itself as a vehicle for tackling teen mental health struggles, especially in relation to the difficulties Evan, Connor (Colton Ryan), Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) and star student Alana (Amandla Stenberg) face throughout the movie, telling teens that through the lens of Evan’s story, they should feel less alone.
In a roundtable interview with The Daily Californian, Amy Adams, who plays Cynthia Murphy, remarked “I think the film does a really great job, especially with the addition of Amandla’s new song, kind of showing how different people process their own mental health issues.” As Adams mentioned, one of the biggest changes made in the film version includes the addition of Alana’s song “The Anonymous Ones,” co-written by the musical’s original composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul as well as Amandla Stenberg.
In discussing Stenberg’s version of Alana and their portrayal, they hoped to “embody Alana in that way could also speak to the kids who maybe do academically achieve a lot of success, but also are struggling internally and don’t fully know how to quite be themselves yet.” This characterization marks a definite, fuller understanding of Alana as a reflection of the teenage masses that this movie hopes to target, rather than Stenberg’s character operating as yet another person hoping to capitalize off of the struggles of Evan and Connor.
Among other mental health struggles the movie hopes to address, “Dear Evan Hansen” highlights how grief can destroy a family while sparking revelations in one’s knowledge of themselves. In understanding his character Larry Murphy’s process of dissecting his grief, actor Danny Pino remarked, “Maybe the lesson (of the film) is that by sharing the vulnerability, there’s a pathway to healing.”
While the film hopes to make headlines for its tackling of mental health struggles and the processing of grief, the film has actually gained attention for its casting of Platt. Even though he originated the role in the Broadway production, to many who viewed the trailer, the 27-year-old actor looked considerably older than the character he portrays. When asked about his confidence in doing Evan justice as someone significantly older than the 17-year-old character, Platt declared that it’s simply not up to him to decide whether his portrayal of a teenager is accurate, leaving it up to the audience to make up their minds; co-star Julianne Moore, however, remarked she believed he took on the authentic look and personality of a high schooler while filming, comparing his demeanor to that of her 17-year-old child.
The movie also begs the audience to empathize with Evan, hoping to see the flawed protagonist correct his mistakes. In the musical version, however, many viewers regarded those actions as unforgivable, which makes the film’s redemptive impulse interesting, especially as Platt remarked that there is much less time to see Evan’s journey to forgiveness in the Broadway version.
In handling the transition from stage to screen and story changes, Platt said of his portrayal for the film: “the most important (thing) for me, which was actually made much easier by the intimacy of film … is making sure that the audience understands what’s going on in Evan’s mind at all times and understands why he’s making the decisions he’s making, because of course, many of those decisions and choices are very morally difficult and ambiguous.”
Ultimately, “Dear Evan Hansen” sees itself as a poignant piece of commentary on social media, mental health struggles, the experience of being a modern-day teenager and the grief of losing a loved one. As reiterated by its stars, the film believes it tackles all of these subjects with the significance they deserve. While there’s room for skepticism amid this anticipation, the success of this ambition will be determined by the film itself, which premieres Sept. 24.