Stephen Chobsky’s Film Adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen” Fails to Live up to Expectations


The film adaptation of Steven Levenson’s “Dear Evan Hansen” debuted in theaters to mixed reviews. (courtesy of Twitter)

Since the trailer was released back in May, the film adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” has been highly anticipated by fans and film critics alike. Originally written by Steven Levenson, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a coming-of-age story that follows Evan a 17-year-old boy struggling with anxiety and depression as he becomes unexpectedly involved with the Murphy family after his classmate, Connor Murphy, commits suicide. Evan struggles to adjust amid this tragedy and fumbles through the rest of his senior year, trying to navigate his complex interpersonal relationships and mental health issues. “Dear Evan Hansen” debuted as a Broadway musical in 2015 and took the world by storm, winning six Tony awards and the hearts of millions.

As a movie, however, “Dear Evan Hansen” has not been nearly as successful at the box office with an abysmal 30% rating on the Tomatometer and not a single award nomination on the horizon. Released on Friday, Sept. 24, director Stephen Chobsky’s film adaptation is lackluster and fails to captivate the audience in the same way the play did.

But what is it about the film that makes it so hard to sit through? After all, the script hardly deviates from the musical on which it is based. The movie features the same music by critically acclaimed composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and award-winning actor Ben Platt even returns to play the titular role — the elements are all there. Though it was a noble effort, I must explain why this commitment to maintaining authenticity is precisely where Chobsky went wrong. 

First of all, I mean it when I say the movie script was almost identical to that of the play. The writers barely cut anything or changed any scenes which means the movie was just as long as the play — 2 hours and 17 minutes to be exact — with no intermission. I was feeling pretty restless by the second rendition of “Only Us” (I don’t recommend going to AMC Lincoln Square 13 on Broadway by the way — they don’t have the comfortable reclining seats). The movie is meant to be highly emotional as it deals with rather uncomfortable topics, so this uninterrupted viewing experience becomes rather exhausting. 

Second, this movie musical attempts the challenge of seamlessly incorporating music into the dialogue. When done well, this element can be what makes the movie unforgettably brilliant (i.e “La La Land” or “Les Mis”), however, Chobsky fails to rise to the occasion. When a character breaks into song — usually Evan and usually in the midst of an emotional scene — it just feels awkward. Dramatic lighting, inclusive choreography, and the adjustable nature of the stage worked to the play’s advantage when it came to this task, but the film does not lend itself to the same ability. Something about Evan singing “For Forever” in the Murphy’s dining room while the rest of the family sits around him in silence is almost agonizing to watch. 

Finally, arguably the biggest flaw in this film is Ben Platt. Yes, he is part of the original cast and yes he won awards for it — yes he IS Evan Hansen — but he is also 28 years old. And he’s the only cast member from the original Broadway cast. While the hair and makeup artists tried their best to make Platt look 11 years younger, his appearance was still unconvincing, as you can still see his 5 o’clock shadow in close-up shots. Unfortunately, all of this effort was in vain to boot. An overwhelming majority of critics and viewers agree that it would have been a better choice to cast someone else for this role. Although Evan Hansen is Platt’s claim to fame, it might be time for him to take that cast off and hang up that striped shirt.

It’s not all bad though. “Dear Evan Hansen” does redeem itself with its catchy soundtrack, but overall this movie was a major miss. The plot is littered with heavy themes such as cyberbullying and suicide, and important sentiments get lost among the glaring shortcomings. For what it’s worth, “Dear Evan Hansen” is continuing to draw in an audience and it is definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of the musical — but be warned, you might be disappointed.