Ben Platt’s performance makes ‘Evan Hansen’ worth seeing despite film’s inconsistency, flaws

What makes the uneven Dear Evan Hansen worth watching is the performance of Ben Platt. –wranglernews.com file photo

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Film Fare 

Evan himself wrote the letter from which comes the title Dear Evan Hansen. Intended as a morale-boosting exercise for the alienated, socially anxious high school kid (Ben Platt), the missive is found on the person of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a seriously disturbed classmate who has taken his own life.

Connor’s devastated parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) jump to the conclusion that he wrote it to Evan, and that the two were close friends.

Evan plays along with the mistake, initially because he feels sorry for Connor’s mom, and also because it gives him proximity to Connor’s sister Zoey (Kaitlyn Dever), on whom he has long had a crush.

MV Moorhead
M.V. Moorhead

He continues the charade because the affluent, welcoming Murphys offer him a family dynamic he doesn’t get from his always-working single mom (Julianne Moore).

Gradually his supposed friendship with Connor brings him social-media celebrity, and things get out of hand.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky, this is an adaptation of the stage musical, which opened on Broadway in 2016. The show was an uneven piece of work, an uneasy combination of farcical plot contrivances and complications mixed with bitterly sad subject matter. The score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, was also uneven musically with three or four strong songs plus a lot of forgettable warbling.

Most likely what made Dear Evan Hansen a hit in the theater, above all, was the Tony Award-winning performance of Ben Platt in the title role. Platt’s voice is marvel, an impossibly angelic falsetto that transcends the technical. There’s an idiosyncratic, self-deprecating diffidence to his phrasing that gives it personality and wit along with vocal purity.

As powerful as songs like “Waving Through a Window” and “For Forever” are, it’s Platt’s singing—and acting—that elevates them to breathtaking.

Chbosky uses the banal suburban high school settings ingeniously, and he and screenwriter Steven Levenson, who wrote the book of the musical, do a creditable job of weeding out many of the filler songs and making Platt the focus. Even so, the movie drags a bit in its second half, and its creepy side can’t be completely shaken.

I’m told, though, that the biggest objection to the movie is that Platt, now 28, looks too old to play Evan. I have to say that he didn’t strike me that way at all. If I was told that the guy we see in the film, with his limp curls and miserable shirts and slumped shoulders, was a sad-sack high school senior, I don’t think it would occur to me to doubt it.

In any case, even if Platt were balding and gray at the temples and had crow’s feet and a paunch, I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else perform this music. Dear Evan Hansen has flaws, but the star isn’t one of them. He’s what makes the movie worth seeing despite its flaws.

Dear Evan Hansen is rated PG-13 and plays at Harkins Tempe Marketplace, Arizona Mills, Chandler Fashion 20 and other multiplexes Valley-wide.

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