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Awkward, slow 'Dear Evan Hansen' stumbles as a film

Phil on Film
"Dear Evan Hansen" debuts in theaters Sept. 24. Photo courtesy Universal Pictures.
Posted at 7:21 AM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 10:21:51-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — With its Tony-studded Broadway pedigree, "Dear Evan Hansen" seemed like instant Oscar material. Instead, it's a more than two-hour public service announcement about why not all stage musicals should be adapted to film.

Ben Platt reprises his Broadway role, and his sense of empathy and incredible singing voice are tasked to carry the film. Although Platt's performance is admirable, it's nowhere near convincing enough to make the 28-year-old actor look convincing as a high school senior. He oversells the slouchy sullenness meant to make him look like a vulnerable teen, and the performance as a whole comes off as a distracting attempt to try too hard to turn back the clock.

The awkwardness translates to the overall tone of the film. Director Stephen Chbosky, who proved a deft hand at translating the emotional rhythms of school life in "Wonder," squanders whatever momentum he has when he transitions abruptly into songs. Often slow and drawn out, these numbers -- which no doubt connect with audiences in live performances -- seem stiff and disjointed to the point that they are more likely to draw laughs than tears.

Platt plays the title character, a social outcast who generates his first brush with popularity once he starts pretending that he had a covert friendship with Connor (Colton Ryan), a classmate who killed himself. Continuing the lie not only to boost his self esteem, but soothe the pain of Connor's family, Evan sinks deeper into a trap of his own creation that piles on the already-overwhelming anxiety and insecurity he faces. Tragically, the fraud undermines his budding relationship with Zoe (Kaitlyn Denver), Connor's sister and Evan's longtime secret crush.

The supporting cast, which includes Julianne Moore as Evan's harried single mother and Amy Adams as Connor's heartbroken mom, is excellent, except for when they're asked to cut out of the story and start singing. The problems with this adaptation trace back to the original script. The project may have been better served to ditch the musical trappings altogether and trust the heft and nuances of its writing to translate the torrent of adolescent angst from which it draws.

But even after everything was shot, the film might have greatly benefited from some ruthless editing. Deleting two or three of the song numbers would have gone a long way toward smoothing the flow of the disjointed film.

It's particularly disappointing that "Dear Evan Hansen" fails to connect, because it brings up some challenging notions of alienation and community -- especially in this social media-infatuated age -- that bare study and discussion. Its points ring hollow, though, because the film is so weakly executed. "Dear Evan Hansen" feels like a high school film project from a C-student.

RATING: 1.5 stars out of 4.
Viewed Thursday at Harkins Arizona Pavilions.

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