I have never enjoyed movie musicals.
That’s because when you’re just getting into a scene, boom: somebody lets loose with vocals which rob the scene of its serenity and of your sanity.
Sure, you may say, some vocals amplify a scene’s tranquility like the whistling breeze soothes swimmers and sunbathers reclined at water’s edge while at the beach.
And you’re right.
“Dear Evan Hansen” breezes in with Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) as a nervous, sweaty kid wearing a cast after breaking his left arm.
He fell from a tree.
Is he five, you ask.
No, he’s a teenager who likes this girl called Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever).
Each day, he poetically gazes at her while she plays her guitar. In doing so, he wishes she could play him like a winning hand in poker.
However, he can’t tell her how he feels.
To make things worse, he’s beset by anxiety disorders which attract the attention of a therapist.
This therapist suggests he writes a letter to himself, so as to diffuse the tension bubbling under his skin and threatening to bubble over into a mental breakdown.
So he writes, addressing himself as “Dear Evan Hansen.”
As he tries to print the letter in a school photocopier, Zoe’s tormented brother Connor (Colton Ryan) grabs the letter and all hell breaks loose.
He (Connor) then commits suicide later and Evan’s letter is found on his person.
The letter partly reads:
“Dear Evan Hansen,
Today’s going to be an amazing day, and here’s why. Because – because today, um, all you have to do is just, be yourself. But also confident that’s important and interesting, like easy to talk to, approachable. But mostly be yourself that’s the big like – like that’s number one, be yourself.”
As Connor’s family grieves, they mistake Evan’s letter to himself for Connor’s letter to Evan and thereby think they were best friends.
The letter thus turns Evan into their darling and the whole town’s as well.
He always wanted to be liked; now he’s a superstar.
He has it all.
To protect this charade, he gets his “family friend” Jared (Nik Dodani) to create fake email exchanges between himself and Connor.
To liven up the lie, songs such as “Only Us,” “Requiem,” “Sincerely, Me” and plenty of other ditties are belted out as grief wrestles with redemption to create a mish-mash of fine performances.
Evan’s single mother Heidi (Julianne Moore) gets in some vocals too, on the song “So Big / So Small”.
Beyond the singing, mental health challenges are highlighted with the subtext “you are enough”.
“Dear Evan Hansen” thereby opens up a teenage world where mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, attention deficit disorders, and other behavior disordersare sealed by suicide: which is statistically the second leading cause of death in young Americans aged 15–24 years.
This movie was able to transmit this sad reality without sounding preachy, and that’s what made this the first movie musical I’ve ever enjoyed.