Dear Evan Hansen – From Small Stage to Big Screen

If you have followed the long, sometimes strange trip of this musical from Off-Broadway to Broadway to film, you know by now that the lead actor is a 28 year old playing a high schooler. I want that issue out of the way first, as it is neither a distraction nor a criticism. History is replete with older actors playing younger characters.

Here, Ben Platt reprises his titular role with aplomb.

The film explores the fragility of mental health in the crucible of high school and unrelenting social media. An outcast, Evan Hansen’s therapy is to write letters of encouragement to himself. When the letter ends up in the hands of a suicide victim, the plot begins to evolve. Evan has been infatuated by the sister of the now dead student, and soon Evan’s profile rises above his withdrawn mental state. Aided by his buddy (Nik Dodani, who played a similar role to a socially challenged friend in the fine Netflix series “Atypical”), Evan begins a Daedalus-like rise in the hierarchy of high school, and soon well beyond the schoolhouse grounds.

The supporting cast is uniformly strong. The dead son’s mother is played by Amy Adams, who wants desperately to piece together the void left by her departed son. Kaitlyn Dever plays Zoe, long the distant attraction of Evan. Dever builds successfully on the myriad smaller roles she nailed in a variety of TV and film productions. Zoe’s family soon becomes a welcome refuge for Evan, both emotionally and from a wealth standpoint. Evan’s single Mom is sincere, but often at work as a nurse struggling to make ends meet. Julian Moore is incredibly expressive in her sincere love of her son.

Stephen Chbosky’s direction is steady, in lesser hands this film would have collapsed.

The film opens with a bravura study of the first day of school, with Evan bravely facing the rigors of a world that is overwhelming for him. Platt’s expressive hands and remarkable voice deliver nuances and shades of feeling that may have been lost in the last row on Broadway. A key student introduced early is Amanda Beck, assayed by the confident Amandla Stenberg.

As Evan and Zoe circle closer, they finally share a duet in “If I Could Tell Her,” a clever means by which to express their seemingly aligned emotions.

For those who enjoyed the stage production, the film will undoubtedly trigger recollections of missing elements. For those who come to the production only via the film, they will wonder how it ever became so successful on seemingly narrow confines of the stage.

Trailer here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.