The Films of 2021: Dear Evan Hansen (dir by Stephen Chbosky)

Last night, I finally watched Dear Evan Hansen.

Dear Evan Hansen is the film adaptation of the Tony-award winning Broadway musical of the same name.  Recreating his stage role, Ben Platt plays Evan Hansen, a teenager who suffers from social anxiety and who is mistaken for having been the best friend of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a troubled classmate who committed suicide after stealing a letter that Evan had written to himself.  (Somewhat awkwardly, it was also a letter in which Evan somewhat obliquely wrote about the crush that he had on a member of Connor’s family.)  When the letter is subsequently found on Connor’s body, it’s assumed that it’s a suicide note that Connor meant for Evan.  Evan, who is in love with Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), allows everyone to believe that he and Connor were friends.  Connor’s mother, Cynthia, (Amy Adams) and his stepfather (Danny Pino) adopt Evan as a sort of replacement for their dead son.  Cynthia views Evan as being the only way that she’ll ever understand what Connor was going through and Evan continually reassures that Murphys that Connor really did love all of them and that he was trying to change his life for the better.  With the Murphys now treating Evan as a member of their own family, Evan’s mother (Julianne Moore) feels that her son is now ashamed of her.  And Evan’s classmate, Alana (Amandla Stenberg), launches a movement to raise money to preserve the apple orchard where Evan claims that he and Connor spent all of their time together.

As a musical, Dear Evan Hansen was very popular.  As a film, it doesn’t work and it doesn’t work for all the reasons that everyone assumed that it wouldn’t work.  Believe me, I wanted it work.  From the minute that the trailer first dropped, the reaction to the film has been so overwhelmingly negative that I was really hoping that the film itself would turn out to be an overlooked gem.  I was really hoping that this would be one of those underappreciated films that just needed a few brave champions.  Instead, it turned out to be not terrible in the way that Cats was terrible but still too flawed to be considered a success.

First off, the plot itself doesn’t transition well from the stage to film.  There’s too many holes and there’s too many places in the story where you find yourself wondering why you should care about Evan and his problems.  Those plot holes may not have been as big of a problem when the story was presented on the stage because watching any story play out against an artificial backdrop requires a certain suspension of disbelief.  But, on film, seeing Evan attending an actual school and walking down an actual street and visiting an actual house, you’re much more aware of how inauthentic the story feels.  Evan’s actions rarely make sense and it’s difficult to accept that anyone, even Connor’s emotionally desperate parents, would believe the stories that Evan concocts about his friendship with Connor.  On stage, you could perhaps accept that Zoe would buy that Evan and Connor were friends who confided in each other despite the fact that Evan doesn’t seem to know anything about Connor’s family or home life.  On screen, especially when one considers the fierce intelligence that Kaitlyn Dever brings to the role of Zoe, it’s a bit more difficult to believe.

The other big problem with the film is Ben Platt is too old for the role of Evan.  Platt first played the role in 2015, when he was 23.  He won a Tony and certainly, he deserves a lot of credit for creating the role from the workshop phase all the way to Broadway.  Now, however, he’s 28 and he looks considerably older.  So much of what Evan does is acceptable only if you believe that he’s an immature 17 year-old who is desperately looking for a place and a family where he belongs.  The same actions go from being poignant to being creepy when they’re done by someone who appears to be in his mid-30s.  While Platt has a great singing voice and shines in the musical numbers, he’s a bit too mannered when he just has to recite dialogue.  He’s still giving a stage performance, even though he’s now playing the role on film and everyone around him is giving a film performance.  Platt’s talent is undeniable but he’s miscast here and casting him opposite performers who can actually still pass for teenagers doesn’t help the situation at all.

(When I watched the film, I thought that obvious age difference between Ben Platt and Kaitlyn Dever occasionally made the scenes between Evan and Zoe uncomfortable to watch.  Then I did some research and discovered that Dever is only three years younger than Platt.  It’s just that Dever still looks like a teen while Platt looks very much like an adult.  And there’s no shame in looking your age.  Someone just needs to cast Platt in an adult role.)

In Platt’s defense, the film doesn’t really make perfect use of any of the members of its talented cast.  Amy Adams is such a good actress but the film casts her as a stereotypically flakey rich suburbanite who flitters from one trend to another.  Julianne Moore and Amandla Stenberg are similarly wasted, playing characters who have potential but who are never quite given as much to do as they deserve.  Of the cast, Kaitlyn Dever is the stand-out, even though Zoe is a bit of an inconsistent character.  Initially, she seems like the one person willing to call out everyone on their BS and then, just as suddenly, she’s oddly forgiving of someone who essentially manipulated her emotions for his own benefit.

Not surprisingly, Dear Evan Hansen works best when people are singing.  Ben Platt and Colton Ryan bring so much energy to Sincerely, Me that I briefly had hope that the film was turning itself around.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case but still, it’s a good production number.  Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t really live up to it.

Here’s The Trailer For Dear Evan Hansen!

I have to admit that I kind of went back and forth on whether or not to share the trailer for Dear Evan Hansen, the film adaptation for the Tony-award winning Broadway musical.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a trailer greeted with this much derision. My natural instinct is to be a contrarian and to try to defend it. (Remember …. I proudly put Money Plane on my list of the best films of 2020. I campaigned, albeit unsuccessfully, for Kesley Grammar to receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his career-defining performance as The Rumble in that same film. I’ve voted for multiple third party candidates and I still hold on to hope that Degrassi will somehow be renewed for another season. I am not scared of embracing a lost cause.) However, I actually agree with a lot of the comments that have been made about this trailer. For instance, it does give away almost the entire plot. And it does tend to go on and on. (No trailer should be over 3 minutes long.) And, perhaps most importantly, Ben Platt does look way too old to be playing a depressed and insecure high school kid.

It should, of course, be noted that Ben Platt originated the role of Evan Hansen, playing the role from the first reading of the show all the way to Dear Evan Hansen‘s eventual Broadway premiere. He played the role for three years. He won a Tony Award for playing Evan Hansen. One could argue that Ben Platt earned the right to recreate the role on film. However, judging from the trailer, Ben Platt may be 27 but looks at least ten years older. He looks less like Julianne Moore’s son and more like her younger brother. The attempts to make him look like a high school student just seem to age him even more. On stage, this would be less of an issue. However, watching the trailer, it’s pretty much the only thing that you can think about.

That said, this film was directed by Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky also wrote and directed one of my favorite films of all time, The Perks of Being A Wallflower. My hope is that Chbosky can pull it off and that Ben Platt’s performance will be so effective that it won’t matter that he’s way too old for the role.

Anyway, with all that in mind, here’s the trailer:

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.


Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.


Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.


Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.


Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.


Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

Trailer: Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect came out in the fall of 2012 and to say that it surprised many would be an understatement.

A film about acapella singing and battling wasn’t something that should’ve appealed to many. It sounded too much like the singing version of the Step Up series. From the day of it’s release the film garnered such a collection of positive reviews from critics that the public quickly came around to wanting to see this little film that could.

So, with the success of the first film it was just a matter of time (not much dilly-dallying) before a sequel was green-lit and this week we see the first trailer for Pitch Perfect 2.

The sequel brings back the entire cast with some new notable additions in Hailee Steinfeld and Katey Sagal.

Pitch Perfect 2 is set for a May 15, 2015 release date.