Movies

The Plot Of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Recreated Using Only Quotes From Reviews

It’s hard to define exactly what makes a movie a great candidate for Plot Recreated With Reviews, the feature in which I attempt to piece together an entire movie using only expository quotes from movie reviews. Like the Supreme Court said of porn, I can’t explain exactly what it is, but I know it when I see it. All I know is that when I hear the phrase “problematic musical,” I start getting an itchy command-C finger.

Which brings us to Dear Evan Hansen, a much-ridiculed film adaptation of an award-winning musical, in which 27-year-old Ben Platt reprises his Tony-winning stage role in the lead (his father, perhaps not coincidentally, was a producer on the movie). Indeed, “actor too old” seems to be the main bullet point in the let’s-all-dunk-on-this-movie memo that apparently went out to Twitter a few weeks ago. But honestly, I’ve seen actors that old play high school characters before, and I’d almost always prefer competent actors looking slightly too old to convincing young people who can’t act. And yet, the movie does seem plainly dunkable, in a fairly self-evident kind of way.

In reading all these reviews, I think Tribune News Service critic Katie Walsh put her finger on it when she wrote that Evan Hansen was, “one of the most bizarre cinematic portrayals of a teenager, due to all the effort to make Platt, a certifiable hunk, look and seem like a nerdy social outcast with crippling anxiety.”

How do you make an obviously hot guy into a nerdy outcast? Give him a bad wig and some ugly shirts, obviously. Remember when Bradley Cooper played The Elephant Man on stage by simply making a weird face the whole time? God I loved that.

Anyway, I’ve introduced it enough, let’s recreate that plot!

THE SETUP

Ben Platt, who also starred in the stage version, reprises his role as Evan Hansen; at 27, he is three years older than Drew Barrymore was when she played an undercover high school student in “Never Been Kissed.” –Detroit News

Evan is a deeply shy, anxiety-ridden loner –Detroit News

Over the summer he fell out of a tree and broke his arm. –SF Chronicle/Fort Worth Report

Clunky flashbacks illustrate this. –Philadelphia Gay News

“What, are you five?” is the running joke. -Fort Worth Report

A sweaty-palmed mess, his darting eyes and coiled body language repel other students as he sings lustily about feeling unseen. –NY Times

He confides only in Jared, whom Evan considers a friend, though Jared quickly corrects him: “family friend.” –AZ Central

On the first day of his senior year Evan writes himself a letter as a pep talk, an assignment from his therapist. -Detroit News

“Dear Evan Hansen,” it begins, and it includes all sorts of affirmations about having a good day by just being normal and fitting in that he knows, deep down, he won’t be able to achieve. -Detroit News

“I wish that anything I said mattered to anyone,” Evan grumbles in his halting manner. –CNN

THE MIXUP

Thanks to a backup at the library’s printer (hate when that happens!), the letter winds up in the hands of Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), a troubled classmate of Evan’s. -Detroit News

Connor zeroes in on Evan, screaming at him, scrawling his name on the cast of his broken arm, and snatching his letter. –Tribune News Service

Evan is in an agony of expectation that the bully will post the letter on social media. Instead, the boy kills himself. -San Francisco Chronicle

When the letter is found by Connor’s parents (played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino), they treat it as a suicide note addressed to Evan, who they assume, due to its intro, was their son’s only friend. -Detroit News

They lavish him with the attention he never gets at home, and their mood lightens considerably each time Evan shares more heartwarming made-up stories about their son, who in reality was not at all lovable. –National Review

Evan goes along, then begins building on the lie… CNN

…going so far as to enlist an acquaintance to help fabricate an email exchange between Connor and himself. -NY Times

The deception — and self-deception — works for a while, helping those grieving while transforming Evan from a friendless outcast into an object of sympathy at first, and eventually lifting his status. -CNN

THE CRUSH

Complicating the issue is Evan’s borderline-stalker crush on Connor’s sister, Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever, who has been playing high school-age roles since 2013’s “The Spectacular Now”). If this ruse gets him a little closer to her, what’s the harm? -Detroit News

Evan gets close to Zoe by spinning stories about how much her brother idolized her, even as she describes her brother as a monster whose constant emotional abuse made her life a living hell. –AV Club

It all leads to a moment where Evan goes viral worldwide, only for the falsehoods to karmically fall back on him. –USA Today

THE SONGS

Evan breaks into song as a means of communicating his feelings; the songs, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are always earnest, and intended to gain the sympathy of the audience. -Detroit News

The person standing next to Evan when he’s belting out a show tune sometimes notices and sometimes doesn’t. –Minneapolis Star Tribune

During songs, the other actors must pick an expression to plaster on their faces for long periods, like people forced into uncomfortable close-ups just before “The Young and the Restless” cuts to commercials. -Minneapolis Star Tribune

Three of the women sing as though they have Irish accents. -SF Chronicle

EVAN’S UNDOING

Alana (Amandla Stenberg), a hard-charging overachiever with her own secrets, creates The Connor Project, a fundraising arm to spiff up the orchard where Evan and Connor supposedly hung out together. -AZ Central

She and Evan bond over the list of the nerve-smoothing medications they’re on -National Review

…in a scene where she tries to play the “we are a lot alike card.” -FortWorthReport

Evan is eventually roped into a charitable tribute to Connor that becomes his triumph as well as his undoing, while his mother (Julianne Moore) is off at work and is mostly in the dark and misses the whole thing where her son goes insanely viral because of a friendship he never had. -Detroit News

THE PERFORMANCE

At the heart of the film is Platt’s annoyingly tic-laden performance, which never comes off as authentic or believable. -Detroit News

His trying to seem young is so sweatily effortful. -Tribune News Service

…exaggerated and precious, so that every time his mouth quivers before he says something, you want to tell him to get a grip and spit it out. -SF Chronicle

Hunched, twitchy, wide-eyed… -AV Club

…too much Viola Davis-level snot-crying -Minneapolis Star Tribune

…awkward postures and constantly darting eyes… -Tribune News Service

Some of the knock-kneed stammering insecurity that you might naturally accept in a 17-year-old looks positively weird in a grown man. -SF Chronicle

He looks embalmed, or at least like a mannequin. -AZ Central

ADJECTIVE CORNER

Overly manipulative, creepy, saccharine -Detroit News

Treacly and manipulative -NY Times

insufferably twee -SF Chronicle

well meaning -USA Today

has its heart in the right place and is a film with good intentions –Bowling Green Daily News

pretty much an unmitigated disaster. –The Atlantic

CONCLUSION

It’s a strangely unconvincing attempt at an inspirational story. -Detroit News

Aw, man, that’s too bad. The story about leveraging fake grief for clout and popularity actually sounds kind of good. But wait, didn’t Bobcat Goldthwait already make that movie? Maybe he should do a remake where he plays the high school kid. I’d watch that.

Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can access his archive of reviews here.

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