‘Dear Evan Hansen’ suffers from bad casting decision

Rick's Reviews

Ben Platt reprises his role from Broadway in the film version of “Dear Evan Hansen.” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Imagine the film “Home Alone” except with a 27-year-old Macaulay Culkin playing the role. Or think of “The Goonies” where the youngest member of the group is 27.

That kind of major fumble when casting would have destroyed those projects as it does with the new release “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The tale of a young high school student dealing with his own personal problems while being pulled into the emotional eddy of a fellow student’s suicide was a masterful success when it played on Broadway. All of the young angst is stripped away by the decision to cast 27-year-old Ben Platt in the film version.

It is impossible to turn away from the fact Platt looks less like an emotionally scarred teen and more like the parent of a student. That’s a crushing blow from which the film never recovers.

Evan Hansen is a broken high school student whose therapy letter is thought to be a suicide note by a troubled classmate. The student’s grieving parents – played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino – believe Hansen is the only source of learning more about their son’s life and death.

Hansen elects not to tell them the truth but layers on lies to make it look like there was a friendship when there wasn’t. The lies help Hansen finally be seen by his classmates. He gets to push aside his own feelings of unhappiness, despair and hopelessness through his deception.

This is a truly powerful story from writer Steven Levenson. It was good enough to earn “Dear Evan Hansen” six awards at the 71st Tony Awards. There are some very serious and important elements including mental health issues, social stigmas and the complexities of parenting. But, because Platt gives the character such an older feel, those elements ring very differently for an adult than a teen.

This aging of the story elements is also muddled by more sexual overtones. This takes the production out of this beautifully told tale of despair and truth and into a more uncomfortable area.

It is always difficult to condemn film adaptations of theatrical productions. Without a big screen version, there would be a long list of high-quality stage productions that only a small percentage of the population would see. But because a stage show became a movie, millions got to see “Hamilton” and “In the Heights.”

It is great that more people get to see these shows but that doesn’t give the film a pass when it comes to quality. All copies of the film version of “Cats” should be burned because what works in the intimate confines of a theater stage can often be overproduced or miscast to the point the quality is gone.

That’s what happened to “Dear Evan Hansen.” What reached out to grab audiences as a stage work has been turned into what comes across as a two hour and 17 minute episode of “Glee.”

It all keeps coming back to the biggest flaw being the casting of Platt in the film. The last time there was such an obvious casting of someone too old for the part was in “Beverly Hills 90210.” The blame falls to the film’s producer Marc Platt who pushed for his son to star in the film. It is just a case of casting nepotism that hurts the movie.

There are plenty of talented young actors or those who can pass as young who should have been given the title role. Kaitlyn Dever – best known for her work on the comedy “Last Man Standing” – is in her mid-20s but she is very believable as a high school student.

Her performance as the sister of the student who committed suicide is so strong that she almost saves the movie. Dever is a conduit for the key elements of pain and confusion that Platt fails to provide as Hansen.  

The casting of Platt isn’t bad enough to make “Dear Evan Hansen” have the same lack of appeal as junk mail but the miscues are enough to make it come across like postage is due.

Movie review

“Dear Evan Hansen”

1 1/2 stars

Cast: Ben Platt, Amy Adams, Kaitlyn Dever, Julianne Moore, Danny Pino, Amandla Stenberg.

Director:  Stephen Chbosky

Rated: PG-13 for suicide, language, suggestive references

Running time: 137 minutes.

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