source: Universal Pictures

Dear Evan Hansen,

Who are you?

Seriously, who are you? I watched you for over two hours and learned nothing about you; no quirks, no endearing flaws, nothing to make me care outside of my concern for your well-being.

You appeared as a boy suffering from depression and anxiety. You sang as a plea, and then sang, and sang, and kept singing. Most of what you belted out was repetitive, and sure, music tends to be repetitive, but why did none of it extend past the surface of your loneliness and pain?

It’s a dangerous thing, to see yourself as only your disease. Depression can sap the joy from your interests and anxiety can stop you from expressing your thoughts, but they’re still there. You’re still an impersonation of a person standing in front of me, someone with good and bad mixed together in a beautiful, delicate tangle, or you would be if this story let you.

Why couldn’t your girlfriend (was she ever officially your girlfriend?) come up with a single thing she liked about you? She sang a whole song about it, and the most she said was that you loved her. That’s a terrible basis for a relationship, let me tell you, but you’re young. You’ll learn soon enough that love isn’t enough.

The people who made you should know better. They’re adults (and real people, unlike you), and your director, Stephen Chbosky, has handled most of what you’re going through before. Have you seen The Perks of Being a Wallflower? You’d like it. It’s about a lonely boy with problems he tries to hide, but eventually he sees a path through his troubles. His pain is as deep as yours, and music, in its way, gets him through. But he’s planted firmly in reality, a real boy with the alarming depth of teenage pain projected onto the screen. In comparison, you’re barely a shadow, a platitude-spouting attempt to tell those facing serious mental health problems that it’s okay without being honest about how not okay it will get.

You were loved once. Audiences cheered when Ben Platt played you on Broadway. Tony awards fell at your feet. Was something taken away when you moved to the big screen? Were you a more rounded character when you had a whole stage to slouch in?

Complexity is the only way to get around the terrible decisions you made, and kid, you made some absolutely stunning mistakes. Pretending to have been best friends with a dead guy for personal gain? Truly awful stuff, but that wouldn’t stop us from loving you. Audiences love terrible characters! We just have to see glimmers of something redeemable, and since you don’t reveal anything about yourself besides your capacity for compounding mistakes, what about you are we supposed to love? Or even care about?

Your flatness is the real issue here, not your selfish decisions or your stalkery tendencies or the age gap between you and the actor portraying you. You’re a character in a musical, after all. The random song breaks require an extreme suspension of disbelief, so what’s a few blemishes to look past as well?

You ask too much of us by not giving enough in return. We’re behind your message one hundred percent. Mental health is difficult to talk about, but it’s the kind of honesty that can save and enrich your life. To match, the message needs to come in an honest package, and nothing about you feels honest.

Your musical numbers aren’t helping you in this department. I get why you recorded the singing separately (lots of the people around you aren’t from musical theater!), but did you have to let them edit and mix the life out of it? It was too clean, a strange contrast to you, you mess of a boy. They felt like watching faded cardboard cutouts with the highest quality speaker pumping out beautiful tunes behind them, and these were supposed to be the emotional high points of the film!

And don’t even get me started on what they did to you in the editing room. The repeated jittery cutting of your opening number? That laughable attempt to show viral stardom? I understand this wasn’t your fault, but someone should’ve put a stop to that nonsense.

I do feel a bad about criticizing you like this. It could undercut everything you stand for, and as I said, you stand for all the right things. You were just trying to express wounds that often go unspoken, and you were doing it in the emphatic tone of your people (i.e. theater people). But this, this is not how you win over hearts. This is how you put people to sleep, if you’re lucky enough not to piss them off.

Release: available in theaters on September 24th, 2021
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Writer: Steven Levenson
Cast: Ben Platt, Julianne Moore, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Amandla Stenberg, Colton Ryan, Nik Dodani

Author: Emily Wheeler

Member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Rotten Tomatoes certified critic. Movie omnivore.

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