Once every few years, the universe gives us the gift of an ironically loved cult-classic movie. These are films that people line up to watch only to mock them; they’re the kind that you know in the back of your head the writers never meant to be all that funny, but you can’t stop yourself from giggling. Ones that you read bad review after bad review about, and yet when you convince enough friends to watch it with you, nobody is prepared for what it has in store.
With its awful effects, cringy assumptions of how teenagers act and the worst casting decision Hollywood has seen in a very long time, I believe “Dear Evan Hansen” will soon become one of these ironic cult-classics.
Maybe in another timeline, this film would have successfully captured the original nuance of the character of Evan Hansen through proper character development. I also hope that in this same timeline, nepotism wouldn’t have won yet again, and Evan Hansen would have been played by a man who looks more worried about his math homework than a 401k.
Regrettably, we live in the timeline where Ben Platt was somehow the best decision for the role, and the character of Evan Hansen is morally abhorrent instead of morally gray. Four of the songs from the original broadway soundtrack were cut from the movie version. However, one of the most important songs to understand the nuance of Evan Hansen’s motivation, “Disappear,” was cut from the movie. This decision changed Evan Hansen from a character with debatable intentions, to a character that is indefensible.
“Dear Evan Hansen” centers around the mentally burdened titular character Evan Hansen and his ever-growing web of lies that he creates in hopes of finding people who love and accept him. The concept of a character so tirelessly lonely that he would be willing to lie to a grief-stricken family about being friends with their son is heart wrenching. However, the film does little-to-no work to help us sympathize with Evan and instead takes us along for a 2-hour-long cringefest that is only comparable to the ‘Scott’s Tots’ episode of the “The Office.” This episode is so notoriously awkward that even die-hard fans of the show reccommend skipping it because of how unbearably uncomfortable it is to watch Micheal Scott tell a class of high schoolers that he cannot pay for their college tuition like he had promised 10 years ago.
From the beginning, it is difficult to tell the perspective of the story being told and where the humor is directed. Theoretically, the story’s target demographic is high school students who understand the complexities of mental health and want to have their own experiences validated. However, there are parts where it is so obviously written by millennials and boomers who are making jabs at Gen Z, causing the message to get lost. It is clear that the writers are assuming how this generation acts, adding in scenes where characters take selfies in front of a suicide memorial or showing Connor, the catalyst character who took his own life, hitting the “Woah” dance in the middle of his choreography.
All of these scenes makes it difficult for the audience to know if we are laughing with the creators or at them, which is not something any writer wants in a comedy film, and especially not in one trying to tackle such a heavy subject as teen suicide.
There are countless scenes where the audience forgets that the film is meant to be an inspiration story about overcoming mental illness, and instead laugh at its overstated awkwardness. At times, it feels like a “High School Musical” adaptation of mental health awareness, causing the audience to undermine the seriousness of its intended tone. Looking beyond its poor interpretation of 17 year-olds and even its awful casting choice, the film refuses to dive deep into the implications how being ostrecized will lead you to extreme means. Instead, it treads over water and chooses to only underline that everybody has some sort of issues. If the film had decided to explore the nuances of mental health and ethics of Evan Hansen people would have probably never laughed at Ben Platt’s age revealing five o’clock shadow.
Moreover, after months of hearing how atrociously old Ben Platt looks as Evan Hansen, nobody can actually watch the movie with a clean slate and give him a chance, even if they wanted to. From the beginning sequence, all you can see are the layers of makeup, wrinkles on his forehead when he enunciates his lyrics and the beard creeping in.
There is not that much of an age difference between Ben Platt and his costar and on-screen love interest Kaitlyn Dever, but there is a glaring visual difference between them that in any lead up to them kissing, the audience audibly groans. In their shared scene where Evan Hansen sings a ballad about how much he loves Zoe’s quirks, it feels like you are watching an episode of “To Catch a Predator” instead of a “Pretty in Pink” love confession. When the audience begins to writhe in their seats from discomfort watching the lead finally get to kiss the girl of his dreams, you understand the reviews are not plastered with ageism but instead raise solid critiques in production.
Throughout the film, the audience is mostly cringing at everything that Evan Hansen does instead of actually sympathizing with him. You end up feeling less like somebody in his corner, rooting for him to get better, and more like another bully for how much you end up laughing at him.
To somebody who doesn’t know anything about the original musical, they might enjoy this film as a cringe drama with a couple of solidly written laughs. But to lovers of the musical, you should beware that this is not the same Evan Hansen you saw on the stage, but instead a more villainous counterpart.
Based on the way this film is able to get an entire auditorium to groan at the same exact parts, it is very probable that it will become one of those special viewing experiences full of long-time fans and audience participation to further exacerbate the jokes. But while the traditions begin to brew, I can only recommend this movie as an enjoyable experience to the people who have an incessant itch for movies that are so bad they are good.
- Dear Evan Hansen Review: extremely enjoyable movie for cringe sadist - October 8, 2021
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