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‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is deep in its message but a little daggy on the musical front

Dear Evan Hansen is a musical drama and a deeply moving experience that couldn’t be more relevant for our times, especially amidst a global phenomenon of rising mental health issues.

Adapted from the Tony Award-winning stage musical, it’s a unique film that presents a heart- achingly honest account of how teens suffer from anxiety and alienation, most of the story from a troubled teen perspective. While this is a musical in essence, be assured it’s not a foot-tapping, sing-a-long ABBA dance fest, but rather an intense emotional journey on the shoulders of a fab cast.

Musical genres appeal to a niche audience, but this is not like any musical I’ve seen. ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is unexpected and emotional. Don’t think ‘La La Land’. Think ‘13 Reasons Why’ with a musical heartbeat.

The characters’ stories reveal a complex, emotional thread, as we meet each individual’s network: parent, frenemy, love interest, and so on. We learn how their interrelationships are pivotal to each other’s happiness or suffering. Due to tragic circumstances that create a ripple effect, Evan’s reluctant decision to lie to those touched by tragedy, grows into an epic deceit that spins painfully out of control, it’s like watching a train wreck.

While I very much appreciated the storyline, I wasn’t too crazy about the songs, some bordering on sounding repetitive, others unmemorable. And I also felt the singing was dragged out, at times bordering on cringey.

Ben Platt (The Politician) can act, but his over-the- top singing renditions with closeups of his snot-snivelling, red-hot tear-swelled face just stays in an awkward zone for too long, and this is ultimately the filmmaker’s downfall.

A long film, the director should have cut each song in half to keep the pace going, and to get to the main humanitarian message quicker: always be kind to others as you never know what they are suffering in silence.

While your emotions are ripped from highs to heavy lows, even if you are not a musical genre fan, there is much to admire in the strong narrative that at times rings true. And there are a couple of A-list cast members who deliver great performances. Julianne Moore gives the most authentic, moving representation, as the hope in a grim line of events and disasterous musical songs.

Katlyn Dever helps bring the downer parts to life to the film. Amy Adams is in a motherly role, fragile and at the edge of tears and almost starting to look typecast. Nik Dodani, as Evan’s “family not actual friend”, gives a more realistic and likable performance. Amanda Stenberg’s character grounds the teen stereotypes, to offer a semblance of authenticity representing the duplicitous mask which teens often wear and the silent emotional burden that cuts deep. Colton Ryan, effectively plays emotionally unstable recluse Connor, the pivotal character, and it is his scenes which make for the less cringey and more believable moments.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN, from left: Ben Platt, Amy Adams, 2021. © Universal Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection

Some fans of the original musical may actually dislike the film adaptation’s “butchering” of the songs. Alternatively, this type of film may just help people get through their pain and realise that are not alone. “I already know you and love you,” proclaimed by Evan’s mother is the most powerful line in the film, echoing this sentiment. If you are looking for a break from the epic fantasy sci-fi genre and prefer a character-driven non-action fuelled film, then you may surprisingly enjoy this unique musical drama. Again, though, it’s not for everyone.

Annette McCubbin

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is in cinemas December 9.

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