Can the Dear Evan Hansen Movie Save Itself Through Its Authenticity?

The New Dear Evan Hansen film adaptation has received relentless ratings…but exactly how terrible is it when compared to its authenticity with its Musical counterpart?

Can the Dear Evan Hansen Movie Save Itself Through Its Authenticity?

Dear Evan Hansen, today’s going to be a good day. A good day because the “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation has recently been released in theaters, and for all the devoted “Dear Evan Hansen” musical fans, this was electric news…initially. 

As one of the aforementioned devoted musical fans, “Dear Evan Hansen” has been on my mental list of “musicals that desperately need a movie counterpart made,” since the day I fell in love with its showing. So personally, it felt as if the lengthy and arduous wait was finally over. Watching the movie was the first thing on my actual “to-do list.” And let me just say that after viewing the film, there is a lot to say. After some research, it was easy to conclude that many viewers and critics felt the same. Within the first week of being in theaters, the movie’s ratings plunged, with IMDb rating it a 4.9 out of 10, and Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 30% on the Tomatometer (meaning it has more negative reviews than positive). However, the pretenses on how this film was rated according to each critique are unknown. 

When I watch film adaptations of musicals, I immediately go into the movie with one thing on my mind: “How does this film adaptation stay true to its original musical counterpart?” I carried this similar thought pattern when I viewed Lin Manuel Miranda’s live-action of “In the Heights” (which I plan to talk more on later), and every other film adaptation of musicals that I had viewed in advance. As done with many other film adaptations of musicals, there were many significant and modest changes made to the live action of “Dear Evan Hansen” that are not present in the musical. These can range from new song additions, change in dialogues or actions of characters, to the changes made based on the influence of the time the piece was released. These diversions from the original story, however, could either make or break a film adaptation depending on how they are portrayed. When analyzing the authenticity and accuracy of the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie adaptation regarding its musical counterpart, does it deserve all the hate it has been receiving? Or is it a wonderful piece in terms of staying true to its musical counterpart? 

The “Dear Evan Hansen” musical, written by Steven Levenson, with the movie adaptation being directed by Stephen Chbosky, is about a teenage boy named Evan Hansen (played by Ben Platt in both the musical and the movie) whose crippling social anxiety greatly impact not only his social interactions but also his ability to make strong relationships with others, such as that of his mom, Heidi, and his long-time crush, Zoe Murphy. Due to this, Evan is constantly being pressured by his mother to attend all his therapy sessions and continuously take his medication. In addition to this, Evan’s therapist requests that he write letters to himself to help ease the anxiety and prepare him for the day. However, none of this helps Evan as he has felt invisible his entire life and continued to feel this way despite the therapy and the medications. 

One day, Evan, working as a park ranger, decides to climb a tree in hopes of feeling seen. However, he quickly loses his footing, falls off the tree, and ends up in a cast. The first person who signs his cast is none other than the brother of Evan’s crush, Connor Murphy, a violent antisocial delinquent who is dealing with some societal pressures himself. In an incident between the two, Connor ends up with one of Evan’s letters to himself, and in a sick turn of events, ends up taking his own life. With only Evan’s letter left in his possession at the time of his suicide, Connor’s parents quickly believe that this was a suicide note written to Evan Hansen from Connor. As Evan plays into the lie of being Connor’s only friend, he now has to decide between the life he has fabricated and reality as he deals with the pressures of the Murphy family, his mother, his classmates, and all the new attention that comes with this fabricated truth. 

Within the “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation, there was already one notable difference in terms of its song listing. The song, “Does Anybody have a Map,” was not included in the film adaptation, when in the musical this is the first opening number and puts a light on the relationships both Evan Hansen and Connor Murphy shared with each of their families. In a brilliant duet sung by both the mothers of Connor and Evan (originally sung and cast by Rachel Bay Jones and Jennifer Laura Thompson), this song truly highlights the feelings these mothers had concerning the weight of the roles they felt they needed to play as mothers, as well as the great impact their son’s actions had within each family. The viewers are exposed to exactly how fragile the relationships of these two families are as they appear to be at a breaking point. 

With the absence of this song in the film adaptation came along a lack of realism within the struggles of these two families as the song and these scenes played a pivotal role in making these interactions between the members of both families more convincing and relatable for the viewers. Hence, the parents of Connor and Zoe and Evan’s mom felt like paper in the movie; I cared a lot less and shared no real empathy for them in the film as I did in the musical where they were portrayed more realistically as individuals with relatable struggles. This was one of the big downfalls I noticed within the movie. 

There are many other songs also removed that also had great impacts on the musical, such as “Good For You” sung primarily by Evan and his mother. “Disappear,” sung primarily by Evan and an imaginary Connor, and “To Break In a Glove” sung by Evan and Connor’s father, Larry. Despite this, the film does a good job of replacing these abandoned songs with a new song sung by Evan’s ambitious classmate, Alana. This new song portrays Alana—played in the movie by Amandla Stenberg— in a more realistic light. In the musical, we don’t get to learn much about Alana’s character as it fails to show any of her backstories; instead, we get a controlling, insensitive, but still ambitious classmate of Evan who will do whatever she has to to keep the attention on her and build a better resume for college. 

However, in the movie, this is not the case. In the song, “Anonymous Ones,” played in the movie, Alana mentions how people are not always what they seem as they can hide what they’re going through behind a fake smile. She sings this about Evan, who tells her how he feels left out and like a freak compared to everyone else who appears normal. Although the singing is lackluster throughout the film, this song is inspiring as it displays Alana’s character in a new light and her desire to be heard. Along with this, the film adaptation strives to give Alana and Evan a genuine relationship that is not seen in the musical. This was done by creating more interactions between Alana and Evan making their relationship more intriguing. 

Despite some of the songs being taken out of the film adaptation, the plot, the characters, and the overall message of “Dear Evan Hansen” are still the same within the film. One thing that I enjoyed most in the movie was that each scene was intense and emotional. To clarify, musicals rely on their music to tell the story and connect to the viewers. So, with every note sung came along with it waves of intense emotion, and this within itself is truly a beautiful aspect. Hence to have a good musical, you need excellent singers who can pass on these emotions to the viewers through its music. The reason musicals rely on music is because they are restricted to a simple stage; there is only so much a director can do in terms of bringing the story to life. 

Movies, of course, are much more flexible as they have real settings and the ability to add more depth to every scene. The director of the “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation, Stephen Chbosky, took advantage of this aspect. Chbosky ensured that every scene revealed the exact amount of emotion that the characters were feeling and once again made all the interactions more convincing, fitting that of a movie. One great example of this would be in the music scenes where Evan sings “Waving Through a Window.” Evan begins the song very strong and clear, with his voice being the center of attention. In the later scenes Evan heads to his high school while still singing the song, but the moment he steps into the packed and anxiety-inducing hallways of his school, his singing becomes muffled by the endless amounts of students that surround him. Although the singing is subpar compared to the musical, having this scene is undeniably powerful as it places the viewers right in the shoes of Evan and reveals exactly how suffocating societal forces can be. There are plenty of scenes like this throughout the movie. It is safe to assume that Chbosky wanted to lean towards relying more on the actions of these characters and on what’s in the scenes than the music. 

One of the last things I noticed was the time the musical was released compared to the time of the movie, as of course, time affects everything. The musical “Dear Evan Hansen ” was first shown in 2015. Times are vastly different in 2021 than they were in 2015, and this is due to the fact that the United States, and the world, have had a heapful of significant and historical events occur since. This includes the famous 2020 election, the powerful uproar in political and social movements, and the Coronavirus pandemic which is still affecting the world as of today. In addition to this, we’ve gone through music changes, new social and fashion trends, changes in pop culture, and even shifts in politics and health. 

While there is nothing that pops out in the musical that could make one say “Oh! This must’ve taken place in 2015!” The film, on the other hand, has plenty of little easter eggs for one could undeniably pinpoint the time. Throughout the movie, there are powerful social movements such as for the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQ community. These were done in the form of posters being plastered on the walls of Evan’s high school. Not only was it a beautiful way to support the BLM movement and the LGBTQ community, but once again brought realistic elements to the story. This would also be another example of how Chbosky took advantage of adding more to his scenes as he was not restricted to a simple stage. 

While watching the movie, I noticed many changes that could either make or break the movie, and in my opinion, many of them leaned towards positive. I wanted to see exactly how accurate it was in terms of staying true to the musical, and for the most part, I observed that the storyline and most of the settings stayed true to the movie.  Even better, however, is that although this movie did take out some necessities that would have completely ruined its piece, it made up for it by adding new scenes and building a world that fleshes out  its characters and stories, just like the musical. 

These techniques can be seen used by other film adaptations of musicals but instead of helping the film stay true to its story, it hindered the story altogether.  This is what happened to Lin Manuel Miranda’s, “In the Heights” film adaptation. I thought it was a decent movie, but there were many changes that I was not a fan of, such as significant songs and major scene changes that did not make much sense. The “In the Heights” film received ratings much better than that of the “Dear Evan Hansen” film; however, in my opinion, the “Dear Evan Hansen” film was more successful at recreating its musical. “In the Heights” attempts to do the same as the “Dear Evan Hansen” film but fails to create a story that is true to its musical counterpart. For example, they utilize their resources to create a wider setting for many of the songs, and more specifically, each scene that contains singing is like that of a music video.

 The scenes of the “In the Heights” film are beautiful, the acting is great, and the singing and dancing of the whole cast are enchanting. This befits its musical in terms of performance. However, not in terms of its story. The original story and purpose of the musical are supposed to show the struggle of those living in Washington Heights and how despite a lack of money and frequent blackouts—due to the city finding it hard to help aid these problems—they manage to make the best of it by singing and dancing together. 

However, within the film adaptation, there doesn’t seem to be any real struggle as the neighborhood they live in looks very clean and pleasant and even pretty expensive. The film goes as far as having a whole scene take place in an expensive-looking public pool that once again does not reveal any real struggle of the characters. This is even more intriguing because one of the main characters, Usnavi, is seen having to constantly work in his store since he needs money to pay bills and take care of his cousin, Sonny. So, seeing him, and everyone else in the film who are also dealing with the same situations, take a day off to play around at an expensive pool, doesn’t feel very convincing. Hence, this greatly takes away from the story of the film and doesn’t feel as realistic. “Dear Evan Hansen” does a much better job in utilizing its resources and taking advantage of the settings to tell a story that stays true to its musical counterpart. 

Overall, I went into the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie questioning how good it would be compared to its musical counterpart, and let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed. The “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation stayed true to its musical in various ways, and although it did change up a few things here and there, it didn’t stray away from its overall meaning and story. Despite the many horrendous ratings it received, in terms of staying true to its musical counterpart, this film adaptation is a decent piece and deserves much better ratings than those it was given. I am convinced film critics and viewers should rewatch the film in this new mindset that truly separates this movie from other film adaptations of musicals. This way, they could truly see in a new light that this film is better than the ratings it was given.