Dear Evan Hansen deals with some heavy, heartstrings-pulling stuff, bringing themes like social anxiety and teenage suicide to the forefront. Though this musical is not Dove-approved because of prevalent nasty language, we can appreciate some of the whys of the movie, if not the hows.
If you can accept Ben Platt, 27, as a teenager, you’ve cleared one of the first hurdles. He clearly has aged out of the role he first played in a Tony-winning effort on Broadway six years ago. Nevertheless, he plays a teen wrestling with social anxiety disorder, which isolates him from his classmates. He’s somewhat isolated from his single-parent, hard-working mother, Heidi (Julianne Moore) and even more isolated from his father, who never answers his texts. His broken left arm is wrapped in a cast, the whys of which will become clear to viewers later. In another happenstance that furthers the plot, the hated school ogre, Connor Murphy — who barely knows Evan, or anybody else for that matter — signs it in huge letters. “Now we can both pretend like we have friends,” Connor says.
Anyway, the way that Evan copes is by following his therapist’s advice and writing himself little pep talks each day, starting them with “Dear Evan Hansen.” He uses these pep talks to pump himself up about having “an amazing day,” but when the day falls far short of amazing, he edits the pep talk and prints it out.
Big mistake. Huge. Because Connor intercepts the letter from the printer before Evan can — and what Connor reads sends him into a rage. Evan braces himself for the fallout from the letter, which includes his crush on Zoe, who just happens to be Connor’s sister.
The expected fallout never comes, however. Something worse does. Evan is summoned to the principal’s office, which we all know is seldom good, even if you don’t have social anxiety disorder. That Connor’s mother (Amy Adams) and stepfather (Danny Pino, from Law & Order fame) are awaiting him there is worse, with news that Connor has committed suicide — and Evan’s letter was in his possession. They want answers, and completely misunderstand about the letter, assuming Connor wrote it to Evan because, as we mentioned before, it starts, “Dear Evan Hansen.”
They don’t know that Connor was hated by everybody and assume that the letter means Evan was his only friend. When the grieving parents see Connor’s name scrawled on his cast, they’re further convinced. Evan, beset by his social anxiety, never gets the truth out and and in his effort to console them, wildly embellishes the parents’ assumption into a huge lie that unexpectedly catapults him to social-media superstar status.
Bigger mistake. Huger. Evan even gets gay acquaintance Jared (Nik Dodani, who is a more believable teen despite also being 27 in real life) to help him fabricate emails out of thin air, building up a relationship he and Connor never had. The lie snowballs, and this is where the movie’s other hurdles get in the way.
Even if we buy him as a teenager, are we supposed to cheer for him because he capitalizes on tragedy to get attention he couldn’t get without it? Is death just a stepping stool on which we exalt ourselves? The movie also paints social media as an unfeeling accomplice — students pose next to Connor’s decorated locker, which has become his memorial, even if those snapping selfies don’t have any good memories of him.
Eventually, however, the lie completely unravels and Evan pays the price. It’s good that the story points out the high costs of deception, and that each of us is less alone than we may believe. But even with heightened sensitivity to mental health issues these days, Dear Evan Hansen could’ve done without a lot of the foul language and sexual innuendos.
The Dove Take
Dear Evan Hansen, today could’ve been an awesome day, and here’s why: You deal with serious issues. But I wish everything was different and you didn’t cuss so much. Sincerely, me (the Dove viewer).