Film Reviews

DEAR EVAN HANSEN Is an American Classic

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Were Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards informed of the extent to which Paul Verhoeven hated them when making STARSHIP TROOPERS? Was S. Craig Zahler projecting a safe, conservative space just to properly humiliate Mel Gibson’s persona in DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE? Who, if anyone, was intending FREDDY’S REVENGE to be a himbo-brained gay parable? Hell, what is the deal with FREDDY GOT FINGERED? Was anyone making the same movie? Is DEAR EVAN HANSEN a project of a unified deranged vision or is someone being used? Is that someone me? The survivor’s guilt of 2020 comes in many forms, but the latest arrives in the shape of the post-Pfizer treat of yet another high-camp, noxious Universal Pictures musical that drives everyone absolutely feral (and is leaving every major studio with a big-budget musical still yet to be released in nervy shambles). Stephen Chbosky’s DEAR EVAN HANSEN was regarded as an all-time Hollywood flop months before it even came out, sure because of the miscasting, but deep within, no one had the patience for a film, let alone a musical, that was overtaken by the hubris of thinking it is an important, nay, essential piece of art. It’s a toast for the Facebook mommies, the IG story testimonial spammers, the condescending TikTok lecturers, the YouTube content react grifters, and Josh Gad’s Twitter: it’s awesome.

The success of DEAR EVAN HANSEN’s original Broadway domination, to this day, is due in large part to its chart-topping soundtrack that, in one of the savviest plays in showbiz history, excised the darkest shit by relegating it to spoken dialogue you could never hint out from the coffee shop acoustic songwriting or the zero-brass, Christian rock instrumentals—most DEAR EVAN HANSEN fans don’t even know how fucked up DEAR EVAN HANSEN is. It’s taken us to this golden moment to the mass reaction to one of the greatest mistakes ever made in showbiz history: letting anyone outside of the theatre community know the plot to DEAR EVAN HANSEN.

Here’s what happens:

Evan Hansen is a sad kid on meds. We don’t know what’s up with him, and the film will not divulge further. At around the 15-minute mark, the thing happens, and the film proceeds to make you watch this freak learn to love to lie for 115 minutes. It’s not just that Connor, the local school-shooter-in-the-making, comes into possession of one of Evan Hansen’s “Dear Evan Hansen” self-help assignments, it’s that the one he nabs is effectively Evan’s suicide note. It’s horribly sad: the letter is later thought to be written by Connor, robbing Evan even of his own farewell, but the kid gets his desserts. Connor, with zero narrative prompt, commits suicide and the parents find the “Dear Evan Hansen” note, thus, thinking Evan was Connor’s one friend. Under immense pressure, not only does Evan fabricate a friendship to assuage a dead kid’s parents, he lies to them in song. In destroying Connor’s memory, Evan murders him himself. He proceeds to write more falsified emails between himself and a teenager he never spoke to, again, under immense pressure, or so we are told. He then goes steady with his long-time crush: Connor’s sister, Zoe. He also gets the parents to bankroll a full-ride college tuition. Connor was an enraged mansion shut-in, so what his family is actually dealing with is the weight of performing an equally invented grief for a son none of them liked. Julianne Moore plays Evan’s anguished mother as a Dr. Frankenstein who’s failed to protect the world from her monster, mourning her lost son and those he’s irreparably hurt in equal measure. Amy Adams is so dead inside that she loops back into delivering one of her all-time best performances.

The over-achieving class president who founded a charity fund called The Connor Project begins conspiring with Evan, guilting him for not exploiting his newfound clout enough to get a frivolous orchard in Connor’s name funded. With $25k still to raise, and Evan on the verge of being found out, he leverages the fake suicide note against her, which buys his lie only a bit more time until she posts the note on Instagram in an effort to guilt the general public into donating more money. This backfires as hundreds begin doxxing Connor’s affluent family, leading to his father screaming “are they gonna arrest the Internet?!” as Amy Adams pleads with him to call the police. Evan outs himself and his big lie in an Instagram post (conveniently after the orchard is funded, of course), and is subsequently ostracized by everyone who found themselves in his warpath. Evan sits with his laptop writing another therapy assignment, essentially acknowledging after all is said and done that “well, I sure hope I don’t do that again.” 

The End.

Obviously, this is a demented story, but, to a degree, the Internet’s response to it has been, gasp, overblown: DEAR EVAN HANSEN kind of knows that it’s fucked up. It’s so bizarre, because the show/film as a sentient concept is telling a Michael Haneke-type descent into emotional depravity, but not a single director or producer of the show/film has ever portrayed it as such, instead opting for the saccharine tossing of the suicide hotline number in your face then walking away. I’ve never stooped as low as to pay triple digits to attend a touring performance of DEAR EVAN HANSEN, God no, come on, brother, but a major part of the original production’s acclaim was its sparseness. You more intimately understand this kid singing about being miserable when he’s belting his crumpled heart out in a Godless void surrounded by color hues, screens, and abstract geometry. The insularity is not only a raised point, it’s the soul. When it’s a curly-headed fuck in an Ikea display bedroom? The perspective shifts, and the veneer of a great Hollywood musical instantly withers as the reality butts itself in; the reality being, this dude isn’t singing aloud as he works on himself through therapy, he’s typing slurs on Reddit and sending Belle Delphine death threats. It helps you sympathize with a kid who many say is just whining. It also helps you accept a grown man playing a child. 

Dear Evan Hansen Still

And hear me out… casting Ben Platt kind of works. I mean, look at the guy, he’s absolutely an outsider in a high school setting. That part of the equation? I’m not questioning! Mission accomplished, Evan Hansen indeed appears out of place! This blabbering old man is screaming a solo to himself in a crowd of kids—actual kids, mind you! The actor is 28, so maybe you’d GREASE it and just age up the whole school, but nope, 16-year-olds by the truckful: the whole film is bending backwards, doing front flips, and gunning corkscrews to fit Platt in. Ben Platt, with the youthful vitality of Wilford Brimley, watches kids walk to the first day of school from his bedroom window, gawking at the nubile meat while attempting to make us believe he is among their ranks. Ben Platt playing a teenager is like if Jake Paul played Malcolm X. It’s a performance that only works if Platt is a world renowned superstar (ex: “of course I’m seeing the new Ben Platt movie, I can’t wait to see his take!”), not a Broadway brat whose boyfriend took over his “star-making” role so that he could star in the film adaptation produced by his dad.

And, yet!

That it so clearly does not work, that he is such an uncomfortable fit for an already unsettling role, actually works in the film’s favor. That he’s so committed to an I AM SAM vanity exhibition, rocking a moppy, Spirit Halloween afro that literally only makes him look more unsafe to be around, is crucial to the magic of DEAR EVAN HANSEN. He looks like he belongs on a list; a Brown kid dunks on him and there’s a brief second where you think you’ve seen the moment where Evan Hansen has been radicalized to enlist in the Marines to wreak terror in Afghanistan. Chbosky foolhardily keeps trying to infantilize Evan, but it only accentuates the disparities of the character and the actor portraying him. Platt as Evan moans about all the times he stared and gaped at Zoe, meanwhile she thinks he’s reciting her dead brother’s memories of her; it doubly doesn’t help that Kaitlyn Dever actually looks like a child. Evan knocks over a microphone and flails about trying to pick it back up, and in attempting to embody an adolescent awkwardness, Ben Platt instead crystalizes the memory of when my grandfather once dropped his insulin syringe on the floor: no one stops Platt from attempting to falsely inhabit a child’s body. It’s a cognitive dissonance that speaks to the character’s own megamind villainy, and there’s not a single soul involved in the making of the film that tries to help Platt out, not even extend a hand. Universal execs think lower middle-class is a two-story three-bedroom with a two-car garage, so Evan looks like a cash-strapped tyke suffering in a suburban Georgia mansion. Shut the fuck up, little loser. Not a single part of DEAR EVAN HANSEN is helping Ben Platt out, and it rocks. The casting works until it doesn’t work… and then it works again, until it doesn’t again.

Dear Evan Hansen Still

The writers and avid defenders of DEAR EVAN HANSEN will exclaim how Evan is caught in a snowballing lie that his anxiety cannot free him from, so truly we shitposters are the villains who are demonizing a helpless little boy. However, these same people refuse to admit that Evan ends up feeling real comfortable in that avalanche real quickly. Whether intentionally or purely by accident, DEAR EVAN HANSEN is about “the bad guy.” The story almost plays as eugenics agitprop, a sturdy case for the United States’ inhumane inspections of immigrants for mental or physical defects so that we don’t get more of these troglodytes invading. Chbosky, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul wheel out this prescription-dependent basket case minstrel so that you will allow the master race to feed your depressed neighbor a cylinder of Zyklon B. Think of all the ills he could achieve! If it had any ambitions to speak of, there’s a case to be made that DEAR EVAN HANSEN’s are genocidal, and it is simply because no one at the reins is in any way capable of playing with fire. It’s all nondescript anxieties in an unnamed town: it feels like a movie designed with Muppets in mind. The reason the common complaint is “this film has an insensitive, baffling depiction of mental health,” is because DEAR EVAN HANSEN spends over two hours being just as specific. What the fuck is a “depiction of mental health”? It’s moron dirtball cinema, not unlike the Italian Mondo films or shot-on-VHS American action rip-offs that acted as reservoirs for the lead actor (who was often also the director) to pay amateur actresses dirt cheap wages to shoot shower scenes with them: I cannot stress this enough, this movie is awesome.

The United States of America is the land where the optics of goodness trump the web of illusion that founds my happiness, and how dare you try to take my joy from me, ANTIFA snowflake crybaby scum. Connor’s orchard is established under false pretenses. The family does not care. Now, cry. DEAR EVAN HANSEN is Google’s annual tear-jerker Super Bowl ad, it’s John Landis decapitating the cast of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and still maintaining enough of a reputation decades later to bankroll his rapist son, it’s Sandy’s celebrated anonymity in GREASE, it’s Maurice Chevalier joyously singing about the little girls who will one day grow into virgin teens in GIGI, it’s Natalie Wood slathered in bronzer, it’s Al Jolson in blackface, it’s Abraham Lincoln watching Our American Cousin… DEAR EVAN HANSEN is all apple pie, baby.

Kevin Cookman
Kevin Cookman is a Film Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine. Deserted in a video store as an infant, Kevin was raised on Fulci, Tarantino, Kubrick, and Whoppers. Now he's a graduate of Chapman University who acts as editor for Merry-Go-Round on the side: what a success story.

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