Movie Review: Dear Evan Hanson

I used to tell people I didn’t care for musicals, aside from Grease and Chicago. I used to say I didn’t like Westerns, aside from Unforgiven and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But I don’t say that anymore because I’ve since found that I like a lot more movies in those genres, and a good film is enjoyable no matter what genre it is.

In the Heights is currently one of my favorite movies this year, and the commercials for Spielberg’s take on West Side Story look good. But there were two things that bothered me when I saw the first trailers for Dear Evan Hansen. The first was how cloying and annoying the song was that the lead actor was singing. The second was that I had to lean into my wife and say, “Hey! This story is ripping off a great movie Bobcat Goldthwait did!”

Goldthwait’s movie was 12 years ago and it made less than half a million at the box office, even though it starred Robin Williams. It’s about a teacher that has a horrible cretin for a son. When he finds the kid dead in his room from strangulation (which involved porn he was watching online), he figures that’s not the best story to get out. He makes it look like a suicide, and pens a lovely suicide note. That note becomes a big deal, and people want to know if more writing existed from this boy. Williams decides to write a diary and claim his son left it behind.

Of course, the brilliant and dark mind of Goldthwait made this go down some dark paths [side note: Bobcat is so underrated as both a comedian and filmmaker, and I told him when I interviewed him on a morning radio show I did in the early ‘90s, that even his movie Shakes theClown was great, despite the bad reviews the story of an alcoholic clown received].

I spent about 30 minutes ranting about how Dear Evan Hansen ripped off World’s Greatest Dad, and my wife said, “You’re going to sound nuts, like usual. Nobody knows that movie, and they’re probably totally different.”

I Googled and was pleasantly surprised that when this play was raking in Tony awards, many people online talked about it ripping off Bobcat Goldthwait.

Imagine my surprise when the second song of the movie, on the first day of school, has Evan Hanson showing up at school. The mascot is the Bobcat, and signs everywhere say “Go Bobcats!”

A tip of the hat, or just a weird coincidence?

I went into this film with high expectations, because La La Land was a bit of fun, and a few of the people involved in that (Justin Paul) did the score/songs here. And it was directed by Stephen Chbosky, who did a brilliant job with the teen coming-of-age story The Perks of Being aWallflower.

This musical turned out to be a disaster in every conceivable way.

Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) is a teenager dealing with anxiety and other mental illnesses, and we see him singing out his window as he watches other kids go to school. The song isn’t that interesting, and he doesn’t look like a high schooler (he’s 27, but played the role on Broadway; his dad produced the movie, so...score one for nepotism). There will be later scenes where I notice make-up caked on him, and there are a few other things they do to make him look younger. He just never sells the character, with his little twitches and slouching. I think about how Michael Douglas didn’t cast his legendary dad Kirk to play the lead in One Flew Over theCuckoo’s Nest, even though he did it on Broadway. Michael felt (rightly so) that Nicholson was a better choice for the lead. And sometimes you have to cast who is better for the part, not who is part of your family tree. But I digress.

Speaking of trees, Hansen fell out of one, so he’s sporting a cast. In one of many contrived scenes, mom (Julianne Moore) tells him to have people sign his cast because that might be an ice breaker to meeting new people. Yet it’s not him that asks Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) to sign his cast. That kid, who screamed at Hansen for no reason in the hallway, now offers a weak apology in the library, and offers to sign his cast so, “We both look like we have friends.” Not a moment of that scene feels the least bit authentic. But, it gives Connor the opportunity to see the letter Hansen printed up. His psychiatrist wanted him to write letters to himself, and that’s what he did. This letter talks about Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), and it upsets Connor. Not sure if it upsets him so much that he takes his own life, because we learn he had a lot of other issues. Yet the letter is found on his person, so the parents (Amy Adams, Danny Pino) give this letter to Hansen. And...hijinks ensue! 

The premise could have been done and been powerful. Yet we don’t know all that much about these characters. Hansen is just a vehicle to get us from one song to another. Connor was a troubled kid that did drugs. What kind, well, we don’t know. Although there is a funny moment when a family friend of Hansen (who actually is the only enjoyable thing in this movie) helps compose fake emails. Yet it also starts to make you think -- this whole thing is rather insensitive. It also trivializes suicide AND mental illness.

There’s a girl at school named Alana (Amandala Stenberg), who is a go-getter and also on some meds. Of course, they don’t delve into the depths of their problems with each other, they just list the meds they’re on. And she spearheads a fundraiser. 

There was a cute scene where Hansen talks about his hands being sweaty, and I felt the movie needed more scenes like that. It needed some dark humor, and needed a bit more nuance. The film needed characters to act like actual people. On stage, that’s maybe not as important as on the screen. Platt especially goes over-the-top in many ways.

Someone needed to realize it was a bit tone deaf in some regards, with a rather insensitive plot device. 

And for all the people that get upset that not enough [insert any race here] are represented in movies, they should be angrier about nepotism. Currently, you have this movie casting a lead actor that had no business playing this role on screen. Yet his dad is the producer. As I’m writing this, I’m watching an interview with James Gandolfini’s son, who has never acted, but is playing the lead in the prequel to The Sopranos (The Many Saints of Newark). Not only has he never acted, he doesn’t even look like his dad!

Dear Evan Hansen has boring songs that are manipulative. They’ll probably only move teenage girls.

If I have to say something positive about this,’s better than Cats. Instead of spending over two hours with this garbage, why not watch an underrated film Goldthwait did. Here’s a list of some good ones: Windy City Heat, World’sGreatest Dad, Shakes the Clown, Sleeping Dogs Lie, God Bless America, or the documentary Call Me Lucky

Consider yourself lucky that I provided you a list of some great stuff to watch.

1 star out of 5.

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