What works as a Broadway musical, where subtlety is lost on everyone but those in the front of the stalls, performances are big and plot points are thunderously emphatic, does not always translate to cinema. Dear Evan Hansen is a case in point. The coming-of-age stage musical, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, but the story’s angst klaxon of an emotional register swamps the frame in this cinema adaptation, which is directed by Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
The stage show’s original star, Ben Platt, reprises his role as Evan Hansen, the anxiety and depression-afflicted high-school senior who accidentally carves out a fictitious role for himself in the life and death of a fellow student. It has been noted elsewhere that Platt, at 28, is pushing it as a school-age teenager, but really that’s the least of the problems with the picture’s crudely manipulative storytelling and honkingly insincere musical numbers. It’s the cinema equivalent of rubbing cut onions in the eyes of the audience: film-making that is cynically and artificially engineered to make the audience weep.