The early reviews for the Ben Platt musical Dear Evan Hansen are in following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and while the cast is generally being praised, reviewers are critiquing the film for sloppy, distracting direction. The film is an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical by The Greatest Showman songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, which was nominated for 9 Tony Awards in 2017 and won 6. Dear Evan Hansen is coming to theaters on September 24.
Dear Evan Hansen follows Ben Platt reprising his Broadway role as the title character, a high school student who ends up in hot water. After his classmate Connor dies by suicide, through a series of misunderstandings Evan creates a false story about being friends with him, becoming increasingly entangled with Connor’s family in the process. The film also stars Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Colton Ryan, Amandla Stenberg, and Nik Dodani.
The film has already been subject to some negative audience criticism following the release of the trailer, with people especially mocking Ben Platt’s age relative to the other characters. However, the time has come for the first word from critics who have been able to see the full movie. They generally confirm the public impression about Platt’s age and some of the more tangled webs of the plot, but they also find issues with the direction by The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Stephen Chbosky. Here are some selected quotes from critics:
Valerie Complex, Deadline
The film’s stars are good singers, particularly Amandla Stenberg, who has a commanding voice that stands out because she sounds natural and is the only one not pretending she’s performing at the Music Box theater in New York. The music arrangements are solid, but why does every single song start with the actor singing in a hushed, monotone voice that goes up and down until it’s time to belt those notes out? Was that a creative choice for the film, or is that how it is in the show as well? Either way, it’s frustrating to sit through that for nearly 2.5 hours.
Peter Debruge, Variety
With “Dear Evan Hansen,” a divisive Broadway musical sticks its neck out in movie form, trusting a shelf full of Tonys to sweep it from improbable stage success to mainstream glory — except when does that work? In a year with a well-above-average number of musicals popping up on the big screen (“In the Heights,” “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” “West Side Story,” “Cyrano,” “Tick, Tick … Boom!”), “Dear Evan Hansen” is the farthest below average in terms of actual merit: a curve-crashing after-school special, dressed up with so-so songs (not so much show tunes as lightweight pop-music imitations), about how people process tragedy in the age of oversharing.
Ian Freer, Empire Magazine
When it moves away from the music, Dear Evan Hansen feels on less certain ground. The conflicts here are all internal not external (fine for stage musicals, less so for movies), causing the story to sag a little — it takes an age for Evan’s deceptions to be uncovered and when they do, it’s with a whimper more than a bang.
Tina Hassannia, IndieWire
Unfortunately, Stephen Chbosky’s poor directorial choices cancel out the rousing success “Dear Evan Hansen” was on stage, with a cascade of glaring distractions that continuously point out the artificiality of the genre.
Joey Magidson, Awards Radar
Chobsky is convinced you’ll love this adaptation too, and it’s a bit of a miscalculation. He’s just not the man to make this musical. The songs are presented without much style (except for one moment that will make you roll your eyes), while the melodrama just reigns supreme. That being said, the songs from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are solid, if less than memorable for the most part. Chbosky and Levenson believe in the material, and that’s admirable. Unfortunately, it just never consistently lands like it could have.
Steve Pond, The Wrap
And really, here’s the bottom line: If you have a heart and any kind of tolerance for musicals, at some point you will surrender to “Dear Evan Hansen,” to Ben Platt and to a sterling cast of actors who were not in the original Broadway musical. It’s messy at times and melodramatic at others, and its treatment of mental health issues is not the most nuanced, but those feel like quibbles given the joy you can find in its best moments.
Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
The absence of a more cohesive unifying tone is noticeable in director Chbosky’s nonmusical renderings, which also occasionally struggle to find an agreeable balance between the theatrical and the melodramatic. Despite the pesky distractions, Platt and company still manage to deliver the right message at precisely the right time.
Although the reviews trend negative, critics have found a lot to praise about this adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen as well. Although Platt’s age reads poorly when translated from stage to screen, his vocal performance doesn’t suffer a bit. Critics have likewise praised the rest of the cast for giving it their all. The critics also seem entirely split on the source material, with some blaming the film for diluting the stage show’s charms and others taking issue with the show itself, saying it couldn’t possibly have been salvaged in the first place.
It looks like audiences who have seen Dear Evan Hansen onstage will have their opinion reinforced one way or the other. However, for those who haven’t had the opportunity to catch it on Broadway, it looks like the film at least accurately preserves its divisive mixture of good qualities and flaws (though evidently, Chbosky adds a few flaws of his own). For those who just want to see Ben Platt preserve his iconic performance on the silver screen, the film at least looks to deliver on that level, so keep an eye on that calendar.
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