REVIEW:  ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ a moving but uneven film adaptation of the Tony award-winning musical

A broken arm is the catalyst to much more for Evan Hansen.

Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Picture, Dear Evan Hansen stage musical took Broadway by storm in 2014 by distinctly addressing subjects that are becoming dangerously prevalent in contemporary society.  Dear Evan Hansen delves into difficult territory and is not for everyone, but it is not hard to see why this musical has gained such acclaim. 

The use of social media, the internet, and digital rather than face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic have had people feeling more alone than ever before which has caused social anxiety to gain a greater foothold in our society.  With sweaty palms, a constant stream of over thinking, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness in a crowd, and the pressure to live up to what others expect, senior high school student Evan Hansen struggles with interacting with almost everyone until a chance encounter changes his life.

Based on the Tony award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information.

The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen has gained some notoriety among the stage musical’s fans because a portion of the musical’s character driven development is left out of the film.  As one who has not seen the musical, Dear Evan Hansen is a pretty somber musical experience about a tragedy and a lie that ends up having a life of its own as the film progresses.   There are cringe-worthy moments to be certain, but they stem from how deep the rabbit hole of that big lie goes and its inevitable consequences.

What first attracted me to this production was Requiem, a powerful number with beautiful harmony that still stands as my favorite performance.  Kaitlin Dever’s chiming vocals as Zoe carry the poignant conflict and the bitterness of Requiem while still preserving her as a troubled and sympathetic figure.  Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy delivers a heartrending performance highlighted by her part in Requiem.  However, without a solo number such as A Little Bit of Light as part of this film adaptation, her character has a lack of dimension and less of a sense of what her actual relationship has been with her late son who is lost to mental illness.   Danny Pino as Larry Murphy reveals a compelling and complex relationship with his late stepson, but the film would have been better if the adaptation delved deeper into his character.  Julianne Moore has much more to work with as Heidi Hansen, Evan Hansen’s single mother.  She and Ben Platt as Evan have a complicated, yet caring relationship and Moore shines for the moving number, So Big/So Small.   Amanda Stenberg as overachieving Alana Beck is a fascinating look into another side of mental illness and how people are not so different in Anonymous Anymore.

Ben Platt originated the Tony award-winning role as Evan Hansen and also does a marvelous job for the film.  Though he seems a little old for the role at this point, Platt’s portrayal of Evan’s anxiety is palpable as he depicts Evan’s struggles right from the opening number, Waving through a Window.  His vocals have a soft and introspective quality as he shares his bewilderment and tenseness in attempting to socialize and make friends.  At times he is visibly shaken and some of the mixed signals and missed social cues he reads from others can be painful to watch.  His simple and hopeful delivery for All We See is Sky Forever is a pivotal and bittersweet song and You Will be Found is inspiring and universally-appealing.  Platt also has some awkward but sweet chemistry with Dever as Zoe in the numbers, Only Us and If I Could Tell Her

Dear Evan Hansen film is not a powerhouse musical, but is filled with quiet reflections, inspirational messages, and sobering revelations. Much of the film deals with various aspects of coping with life and grief, but it also has scattered humor and a few darkly comical moments in the number Sincerely, Me.  The ending is not delivered the same way as the musical and seems to wrap too quickly.  As one who hasn’t seen the musical, I was less aware of what was missing and seeing Ben Platt’s performance was worth watching.  See Dear Evan Hansen the film for its memorable cast and appealing soundtrack, but hold out for the stage musical to get the entire story.

Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information and here to see the stage musical on Broadway or on its national tour.

Film review: Vice packs great performances, but a less than fascinating story line

Though The Sleepless Critic does not usually tackle films, since awards season is here and Sleepless Critic is associated with the Screen Actors Guild Awards, a review will pop up here and there about a nominee.

The hype about the political satire film, Vice has been mounting.  With Christian Bale’s recent Golden Globe win for his portrayal as Vice President Dick Cheney, it seems that this film has its sights set on the Academy Awards.  Christian Bale and Amy Adams have been nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Male Actor in a Motion Picture and Outstanding Female Actor in a Motion Picture, respectively. The performances are definitely worth seeing and this biting satire has a lot to say, if it only the actual story line was that good.

Vice has its clever moments, but those moments were much more interesting in Adam McKay’s far superior film, The Big Short.  Narrated by a mystery man who plays a significant role in Dick Cheney’s life, this satirical tale is slow and a bit muddled from the start as it describes Cheney’s path into politics.

The second half picks up quite a bit as Cheney rises to power, but not enough to make up for the first half.  Accentuated by a crooked sneer, Bale is almost unrecognizable as the former Vice President, his performance quiet and calculating.  As the film warns, “Beware the quiet man.”  However, I was waiting to see how brazen he truly was and with the exception of a brilliant monologue toward the end, I was left waiting for the payoff.  His motivation is never really clear other than desire for power.

Underneath that plastered smile, Amy Adams is ruthless, power hungry Lynn Cheney.  Although it becomes clear why Lynn Cheney is with Dick Chaney, it is unclear why Dick seemingly will give anything to impress Lynn.  Steve Carell offers a steely and momentarily sympathetic portrayal of Donald RumsfeldSam Rockwell delivers an amusing performance as ill-prepared for the presidency, George W. Bush, but sadly, is not in the film nearly as much as he should be.

sag 2019 nominees

Screen Actors Guild Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, January 27! Photo credit to SAG

The 25th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, hosted by Megan Mullally, will be broadcast on Sunday, January 27.  Click here for more information.

Vice is still in theatres now.