Now available on various platforms to buy or rent, director Stephen Chbosky’s “Dear Evan Hansen” is the film adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical. Played by actor Ben Platt reprising his role from the musical, Evan Hansen is a high school student with social anxiety who writes therapeutic self-addressed letters expressing his insecurities.
One of his letters falls into the hands of Connor Murphy, played by actor Colton Ryan, a troubled student who takes his life days later. Evan is mistaken as Connor’s friend by his grieving mother and stepfather, as they believe the letter is a suicide note from Connor to Evan. Unable to tell them the truth, Evan maintains his lie about his “friendship” with Connor and gains popularity when he helps start a memorial movement called “The Connor Project.”
With Chbosky’s directing of emotional performances from his cast, as well as the sentimental melodies and lyrics of songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s musical numbers, it seems that the movie’s intention was to convey hopeful messages on mental health awareness. To that end, there are several scenes and songs encouraging compassion and empathy, but as the story focuses more on Evan’s lie, the film’s optimistic intentions become less clear.
The false narrative Evan creates has grim implications that are never fully addressed until the end of the film. For one, he creates fake email conversations using Connor’s email address and devises stories about moments they never actually shared together. Numbers from the musical such as “Good For You” which acknowledged Evan’s deception have also been removed.
Evan inspires many people, including his “Connor Project” co-founders and the Murphy family, through the uplifting stories he tells of Connor. The film’s narrative, however, rarely confronts how the fictitious friendship constructed by Evan misrepresents Connor’s life, inadvertently casting a shadow over every uplifting moment about “The Connor Project” or Evan’s relationships.
The film ultimately strays from depicting mental health awareness or the grief that follows a tragedy. Instead, Evan’s problematic lie draws attention to its darker implications rather than its intended hopeful story about adolescent struggles.