Content Warning: The following piece mentions suicide and other mental health topics that may be upsetting.
Dear Evan Hansen is a saga of loneliness, betrayal, found family, lost family and reflection all tied together through song. And valiant attempts to “de-age” 28-year-old Ben Platt, of course.
Ben Platt’s 2014 middle school dance makeup aside, he does an incredible job at playing high school senior Evan Hansen who becomes embroiled in a complicated misunderstanding following the death of his classmate, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan). The film is based on the musical of the same name, of which Platt played Evan Hansen for over two years.
Right before the school year starts, Evan is told by his therapist to write daily letters to himself. On the first day of school, he is printing one of these letters when Connor Murphy snatches it up and keeps it after reading that Evan wishes to know Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), his younger sister.
A few days later, Connor Murphy is revealed to have died by suicide, with Evan’s letter as the only thing his family found with him. Despite only talking to him that day in the library, Evan Hansen struggles to explain to Connor’s family that they were not friends, something that becomes more difficult when they catch sight of Connor’s signature on Evan’s arm cast. So, instead of telling the truth, Evan Hansen decides to roll with it, at least for a little while. (It was not a little while.)
Without spoiling anything substantial, the main conflict in Dear Evan Hansen is an internal one. Evan Hansen struggles with his own guilt about the truth of his relationship with Connor (or lack thereof), at the same time that he has to wrestle with his own anxiety and stressful home life. It was a frustrating watch at certain points, but for the most part, it’s not difficult to empathize with Evan and understand his motivations.
Despite the movie’s less than morally sound premise (a 17-year-old boy lying to a grieving family for several months), there is some good messaging. The film is perfect in tackling the problem that many people have in forming assumptions about others, whether regarding their mental health, family situation, or finances. The overarching theme – hammered home with the song “You Will Be Found”– is that everyone can relate to someone, even when they feel most alone.
The harshest criticism of the movie is that many of the songs that are seen as vital to the development of the characters were cut in the transition from stage to screen. Arguably, the most egregious cut was of the song “Good For You,” in which the victims of Evan’s lying express their anger at him. This song is thought to be a critical moment in Evan’s redemption arc, and its absence from the film leaves a bit to be desired in terms of accountability.
And while some may say that Evan Hansen doesn’t fully atone for all of his transgressions at the film’s conclusion, whether or not he is properly punished for all of his lying is not the point. Evan Hansen’s situation tries to illustrate what people would do just to feel like they belong somewhere or to someone. It’s a story of destruction, but ultimately one of healing as well.
Dear Evan Hansen is currently showing in theaters.