Three weeks ago I stumbled into an AMC theater to see DEAR EVAN HANSEN, a movie-musical. Despite knowing that 2019’s CATS was one of the worst major studio motion-pictures of the last few years and despite regularly being frustrated by almost every recent musical film-adaptation, I assumed it couldn’t be THAT bad. It had recently won plenty of Tony awards, cast performers who could competently sing (unlike, say, 2012’s LES MISERABLES), and apparently tackled important subjects regarding mental health. I expected it to be mediocre but not wretched. And then I watched it and what I watched was so baffling and jarring that I almost didn’t know what to say. I knew I hated it but I had to sit back and think on it for a bit before properly being able to put to paper why I detested it so. Now that some time has passed, I finally feel ready to speak on it:
It’s theatre people. Plain and simple, it’s theatre people. I must make a note of the fact that I went to school to get a Bachelor’s degree in musical theatre, so I have first-hand experience with how oftentimes obnoxious and self-serving theatre people are, but this movie is an actual nightmare because a large section of that community made this into one of the biggest musicals of the last decade. I find that to be particularly upsetting because this is a movie about a bunch of people who have no understanding of the world and that is reflected in every moment of the movie. However, that explains why the stage version of DEAR EVAN HANSEN was so unbelievably popular: It’s incredibly emblematic of the community it was made for!
This is a morally repugnant film. It looks like a 137-minute commercial for the Gap. This is a movie-musical where a disturbing sociopath named Evan Hansen (played by Ben Platt, son of the producer of the movie, Marc Platt), convinces a grieving family that he was friends with their insane son who recently committed suicide so that Evan could have potentially better odds of sleeping with the daughter of the family! Despite that logline literally being the plot, it’s billed as an “important” and “eye-opening” piece of content about mental illness (??) and the idea that people who feel invisible can overcome that feeling.
Ben Pl*tt, a man who is allegedly only three years older than me but looks as if he is 47-years- old, delivers a horrific impression of John Hurt’s Elephant Man, contorted body and facial expressions and all, except he manages to have none of the humanity or garner any of the sympathy that that character warrants. Platt looks like a wax figurine from Madame Tussuad’s. It’s horrifying! And unfortunately, you never get used to how he looks. It’s legitimately distracting and disarming for the entire movie. I have nothing against repulsive-looking people being in movies, but if they’re going to be repulsive-looking, I would like them to walk around with some sort of empathy as I watch them. Platt walked around looking like Jeff Goldblum’s character in the final 15-minutes of David Cronenberg’s THE FLY and acting just as unhinged. I suppose he sounds vocally okay, at times, as far as the singing goes, but still, he deserves to be tried at the Hague. Awarding anybody points for singing well in a musical is like saying a superhero movie is good because it has good visual effects! Like… great??? Who cares??? I expect that as a baseline.
Amy Adams also appears in the movie and it is very unfortunate. I remember after seeing ARRIVAL in 2016 that I claimed Amy Adams to be the most talented woman in the world. Now I am of the belief that she has to fire her agent. Somebody out here is pulling pranks on her with every script they give to her and Amy needs to get a better and more trustworthy group of people around her to help her make better career decisions. I need the academy to just give her an Oscar so she can stop playing hammy roles in terrible movies. Perhaps she has a shame kink or something, I don’t know. Somebody needs to assist her, though. She’s awful here. Perhaps not as bad as her embarrassing and, frankly, offensive performance in 2020’s HILLBILLY ELEGY, but it made me basically just as mad and revolted me to my core.
Kaitlyn Dever (the strongest part of BOOKSMART) gives the best performance in this, I guess. She ALMOST resembles a real human. She comes very close. Amandla Stenberg and Julianne Moore were also both fine. They almost displayed some humanity. Almost. Nik Dodani made me laugh, like, twice, too. As a whole, though, I was upset every single moment any person was onscreen.
The screenplay comes across as if aliens observed and studied humans on earth for like 25 years and then tried their best to write something that sounds like how the humans they studied might talk. Everybody speaks like aliens! I get why people bully Evan Hansen in this. He’s an annoying dweeb who is also insane and commits atrocity after atrocity. He, like most theatre kids, would actually benefit from being shoved into a locker a couple of times. Bullying can work! This movie made my blood boil. It legitimately stinks so bad.
It isn’t even truly an issue for me that Evan Hansen is a bad person, in theory. I’m not one of the weirdos on twitter who thinks that the art they consume also needs to be a moral guideline or a barometer of how good of a person they are. A lot of the best works of art ever are about truly awful people and they’re super provocative and interesting for that reason, actually. THE SOPRANOS, SUCCESSION, and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET are all great works of art about terrible people that quickly come to mind. The reason those work and this fails is because not only is Evan Hansen totally unlikable and awful (which, again, is fine, because I’m not five years old), but he also is framed as if he isn’t a monster and demonstrates no real ability to grow or change and STILL gets a redemptive arc anyways. Also, he’s not even funny like the characters in the aforementioned pieces and never once acts like a human!
This was reprehensible and wholly embarrassing, in addition to being confounding and completely incomprehensible. It’s almost so shamefully bad that I’d recommend people to go hate-watch it. Sadly, I’ve seen two movies this year that were worse (SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY and FREE GUY, for what it’s worth). It makes so much sense that theatre kids gobble this one up. It truly makes me ashamed that I have a degree in musical theatre! How awful. Two white girls clapped at the end of the movie as the credits rolled. Thankfully, nobody else joined in. I chuckled to myself, because of course they did.