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Hitting the wrong note

Emotional musical drama Dear Evan Hansen falls short of true inspiration


Universal Pictures

Hitting the wrong note

While 9 in 10 viewers are saying they love the new film Dear Evan Hansen (rated PG-13), most critics are panning it. Neither group is off base. Positive messaging swells this song-filled adaptation of the Broadway musical, but the well-intentioned hero perpetuates a monstrous deception he hardly atones for.

That hero is Evan Hansen (Ben Platt, who won a Tony for the Broadway role), a high-school student suffering from anxiety and depression. As part of his therapy, he writes letters to himself: “Dear Evan Hansen …” A letter in which he wonders, “Would anyone notice if I disappeared tomorrow?” falls into the hands of the school bully, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), who later commits suicide. Connor’s parents (Danny Pino and Amy Adams) find the note on their dead son and assume he wrote it to Evan. To console Connor’s family, Evan invents stories of his friendship with Connor, making him out to be the sensitive soul he never was. The glowing fabrications unite Connor’s dysfunctional family and inspire the school community to greater awareness of depression and suicide.

The lies benefit Evan as well. A social outcast from a broken home, he finds acceptance from the Murphys and the love of his crush, Connor’s sister, Zoe. Evan’s increasingly public presence also helps him shed his debilitating awkwardness and excessive reliance on his mother (Julianne Moore). It’s all worth it, right? So, when the truth does finally come out, Evan gets off with a minimal mea culpa. It’s understandable, perhaps: A genuine reckoning for this sympathetic protagonist would kill the film’s inspirational vibe.

“When you are broken and on the ground, you will be found,” Evan sings. Found by whom? The film suggests rescue comes from within oneself, a friend, or a community of supporters. These might help, but that’s ultimately hoping the broken will fix the broken.

God’s letter goes something like this: Dear Evan Hansen viewers, Jesus was broken for you and laid in the ground. Risen, He’s knocking at the door to find you.


Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.

@RightTwoLife

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RDAR9119

It is striking how much gospel imagery and language there is in some musicals. As you say, who is going to keep these promises? Whether it is “You will be found” from Dear Evan Hansen, or “No one is alone” from Into the Woods, there is only one who could possibly make these kinds of promises to everyone. Our culture may deny the existence of God but they cannot help admitting how much we need him to exist nonetheless.