“Words Fail” in the Film Adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is certainly not an abomination of a film. I will give it that. It is, however, a disappointment of a film. Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the films “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Wonder,” the story follows Evan Hansen, an anxious and socially isolated high school student. 

Hansen, played by Ben Platt who also portrayed Hansen in the Broadway production of “Dear Evan Hansen,” has his life indelibly changed when a letter he writes for a therapy exercise ends up in the hands of the parents of a depressed teen who takes his own life.

 The film received endless backlash when Platt, who was 27 during filming, joined the cast in his Tony-winning role. Concerns emerged regarding whether Platt was the best fit to play a teen over more age-appropriate actors, such as his Broadway successor, 19-year-old Andrew Barth Feldman.

The release of the first trailer only strengthened the arguments against him, which featured a long, curly-haired Platt with very noticeable makeup that rubbed viewers the wrong way. The consensus among viewers was that the film tried too hard to make it believable. Platt’s father, Marc Platt, produced the film, a classic case of, as Jack Black iconically said, “little nepotis.”

Upon hearing the announcement of a film adaptation, I was thrilled at the idea that this story would be more accessible to people than an expensive play. I was fortunate enough to see the show in 2017 with the original Broadway cast — and a younger Platt. 

The Music Box Theatre, a small and intimate theater, intensified the raw emotions of the show. The committed performances of the small cast wrapped the audience up in a beautifully emotional conversation between the actors and the viewers.

I vividly remember looking around me and noticing the sniffles, watery eyes and tear-stained cheeks of the audience members. During the viewing of the film adaptation, laughs and eye-rolls replaced the sniffles and tears. Just as Platt’s casting felt contrived, every other aspect of the film seems off. The results are laughable.

The first song is “Waving Through a Window,” an introduction to the cringefest that is this film. As Evan insecurely stares in the mirror, he sings, “I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass” with the camera choppily panning back and forth from Evan’s perspective to the mirror’s perspective on each “tap.”

The result is nauseating and hilarious, even as Evan describes his debilitating social isolation, anxiety and depression. This scene is a testament to Chbosky’s lack of nuance, which is especially disappointing because Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” was an absolute triumph of a film. 

It takes 20 minutes before the film shows promise in “Sincerely, Me,” and the viewing experience almost becomes enjoyable. Chbosky squanders this, of course, by reminding the audience about the contrived nature of this adaptation. The dance breaks in the up-beat song might even give you goosebumps until you immediately cringe after seeing a character bust out TikTok moves like the “woah.”

The Gen-Z dance moves expose this disappointing film. The “Dear Evan Hansen” crew does not trust itself enough to appeal to audiences through its own credibility that it stoops to the lows of TikTok trends, appealing to those with the same lack of self-respect.


The pacing of the film fluctuates. The first act begins with a solid start until the second act when things halt. Then, the pacing rapidly picks up again in the third act to the point where Evan wails to “Words Fail” and you are just as confused as the screenwriter who probably viewed the first screening of the film and shit his pants because he forgot to include a scene. 

The cast features Colton Ryan as Connor, the student who takes his own life, as well as Amy Adams, Danny Pino and Kaitlyn Dever as Connor’s grieving parents and sister, respectively. Other supporting actors include Amandla Stenberg from “The Hate U Give” and Nik Dodani of “Atypical.” 

The performances are pretty strong. Dever, who was in the film “Booksmart,” compellingly fleshes out the two-dimensional Zoe so well that the audience will find themselves rooting for Zoe over Evan. Julianne Moore elevates the movie as well with her limited screen time as Evan’s single mother.

Platt indubitably has talent. He portrays the necessary emotions of each scene. Yet, he has a tendency to overact. This certainly worked well for him on the stage, but he did not aptly adapt to the screen. His performance, although deeply emotional, is not believable in the same way Dever’s and Moore’s are.

Instead, as I watched him bawl like a baby, I was astounded by his endless supply of tears and wondered, “Is it humanly possible for someone to cry that much?” Someone can be a great performer, but the best acting is the kind you believe. Platt performs to dazzle, and his acting is actually more distracting than his age.

Overall, the film left a sour taste in my mouth as the heavy subject matter was inappropriately handled and lacked the resolution needed for the unspeakable acts committed by some of the characters. The film is not an abomination, but it’s a disaster. At least the people behind this production can take pride in not being the worst movie musical of 2021.