Review – Not A High School Musical (“Dear Evan Hansen”)

In yet another attempt to bring a Broadway musical to the big screen, this one has the distinction of NOT being a sprawling, grandiose epic like the others (Cats, Hello Dolly, In The Heights) This is a small-scale, simple story of a teenager, a mistaken letter, lies, and lotsa singing!

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”. Evan Hansen never heard of poet Walter Scott, but perhaps he should have. Reprising his role from the stage production, Ben Platt again plays Evan Hansen, a senior at Westview High suffering from devastating anxiety and crippling depression. He can barely string two sentences together, except to his only school friend, Jared Kalwani (Nik Dodani). He secretly pines for a cute girl named Zoe Murphy (Kaitlyn Dever), whose deeply troubled brother, Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), has just signed Evan’s arm cast, partly as a joke, but mostly to make some kind of a connection. BUT! Evan’s self-written letter is mistakenly read by Conner and the teenager freaks out, thinking it was meant for him.

Later, Evan learns that Conner killed himself and his devastated parents are seeking some closure. . . and that closure is Evan! They think the letter that Conner had is his suicide note and, somehow, he and Conner were friends. Evan, torn between fessing up and giving this family some happiness, decides to lie about having a buddy-buddy relationship with Connor. Mother Cynthia Murphy (Amy Adams) and step-father Larry (Danny Pino) are delighted to hear this surprising news, as is Zoe, who starts to take a liking to Evan. But it doesn’t end there. Evan ups the ante with fake e-mails that Conner sent. Meanwhile, equally depressed classmate Alana Beck (Amandla Stenberg) takes the ball and runs with it, creating The Connor Project at school, a Kickstarter event to restore an orchard where Evan & Conner used to go. (They didn’t!).

Evan gives an impassioned speech at school that goes mega-viral and everything spirals out of control, much to the confusion of Evan’s workaholic, emotionally unavailable mother (Julianne Moore), who knows nothing about this. Of course, this whole bubble of lies has to burst sometime, which it finally does, and in spectacular fashion. Some changes from the stage to the screen: this movie gives you a bittersweet finale that ties up loose ends, four songs were dropped and several new ones added, and Evan’s friend Jared is now gay. And, just like in 2012’s Les Miserables film, the actors sang live on set.

No doubt about it, with Platt as the star, you couldn’t go wrong. His connection with the source material and character just enhanced the movie, and it didn’t matter a bit about his age (he’s 27). Remember the movie Grease? Ah, hellooo? The entire cast of “teenagers” were over 25! Come on!! It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, filled with an amazing soundtrack that’ll make you grab that box of tissues, and performances that are excellent. Stephen Chbosky (Perks of Being A Wallflower) has only directed three movies, let alone a Broadway adaptation, but he handles this with aplomb without going into ‘show-tunes fantasyland’ filmmaking. 

At 137 minutes it does tend to drag a bit, and without a little humor in song (“Sincerely, Me”), this extremely sad story with a poignant message would be hard to keep watching. Thank goodness you have the outstanding Adams who can wreck you with just a look, and Dever who is devastating without a single word. Pino delivers the necessary comic relief and Stenberg is terrific. I know that many die-hard fans of the Broadway musical will poo-poo this adaptation, but I’ve seen the stage musical and, for my money, this works. . . even with the new changes.

**Now showing only in theaters 

World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

In one of the more obscure movies made with the late, great Robin Williams, this one was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the controversial and bizarre comedian best known for his unusual yelling character in the lucrative Police Academy franchise movies.

The iconic Robin Williams did comedies, dramas, animated features, and some films that fell in-between. In this black comedy, Williams plays Lance Clayton, a single father who can’t catch a break. Y’see, Lance is a writer who can’t get published, his poetry teaching job at MacDonald High School lacks students and is soon to be canceled, and Claire, his wanna-be girlfriend/fellow teacher (Alexie Gilmore), may have the hots for the stunningly handsome English teacher, Mike Lane (Henry Simmons). But his biggest aggravation is his teenage son, Kyle (Darryl Sabara). This piece of work is acerbic, filthy, perverted, and foul-mouthed. He also loves porn, auto-erotic asphyxiation, is hated at school, calls everything & everyone a “fag”, and has only one single friend (who he treats like scum), and that’s the timid Andrew (Evan Martin).

But after a date with Claire one night, Lance comes home to find his son dead, a night of auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong. Not wanting to have Kyle’s death look bad, Lance makes it look like a suicide, including a bogus suicide note. BUT! That fake note takes on a life of its own when it’s published in the school newspaper. Suddenly, everyone wants to know more about Kyle and his life! Even Claire is getting more chummy with Lance. Seizing the opportunity, Lance writes Kyle’s phony journal and hands it to the school counselor (Tony V.), who publishes it as a book. Bingo! The book becomes an instant hit around campus and Lance is catapulted into the limelight with huge class sizes, notoriety, and TV show appearances.

Yes, he knows all of this is one big lie and, at the Kyle Clayton Library dedication ceremony at school, Lance decides to come clean and tell everyone the real truth. What makes this movie so very dark and difficult to watch is the underlining theme of suicide; the very death that took Robin away from us. Nevertheless, Williams plays the doting, beleaguered, frustrated father with such compassion and depth that you forget about the past. He isn’t his carefree, wild ‘n’ crazy, ad-libbing whirling dervish here. Under Goldthwait’s strong direction, Williams delivers a powerful and moving performance, with just a hint of his comedy mastery peppered about.

A strong script by Goldthwait, it has all the earmarks of his subversive and twisted sense of humor. Although it tanked at the box office, it has gained a cult following. If you’re a fan of spotting cameos, then you’re gonna love this movie, too. Director Bobcat Goldthwait, pulling in some favors here and there, got many of his friends to appear, like Tom Kenny (the voice of SpongeBob), singer Bruce Hornsby, and Nirvana bass guitarist Krist Novoselic.  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.