Review: “Dear Evan Hansen” Significantly Captures Adolescent Mental Health Issues
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
By Shiyu Miao 09/28/21 10:40 p.m.
Editor’s Note: This journal contains descriptions of mental illness and suicide.
Adapted from the 2016 Broadway musical of the same name, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a teenage musical drama focusing on Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), a high school student with social anxiety disorder. The film has a great soundtrack and skillfully portrays the Murphy’s family experience after Connor Murphy’s suicide.
Protagonist Evan Hansen struggles to make friends and function naturally in social situations. Her therapist encourages her to write compassionate letters to herself. However, Evan’s self-addressed letter, “Dear Evan Hansen,” is mistaken for Connor Murphy’s suicide note when Connor commits suicide. Thus, Evan is considered Connor’s only friend by the Murphys. Not wanting to shatter the only “memory” they have of their deceased family member, Evan chooses to make up stories about their friendship using fake emails between him and Connor and is gradually accepted as a member of the Murphy family. As part of Connor’s memorial service, Evan joined the “Connor Project” to raise funds and raise awareness about adolescent mental health issues. However, when Murphy’s family suffers a public backlash when Connor’s “suicide note” is posted online, Evan chooses to admit he was lying. This moment marks the moment when Evan really tries to find out more about Connor and finds some hope in dealing with his own mental illness.
The soundtrack is well arranged with familiar and new songs. Besides the more popular “You Will Be Found”, the song that strikes me the most is “Words Fail” sung by Evan when he confesses to lying about his friendship with Connor at the Murphys. Listening to this solo piece, I understand Evan’s long-standing desire for the companionship and compassion that he lacked. I appreciated the addition of “The Anonymous Ones”, sung by Alana (Amandla Stenberg). Through Alana’s popular and seemingly collected solo ‘The Anonymous Ones’, audiences witness the other side of her: a college student suffering from both depression and anxiety who wants to be seen and supported by people who are also in pain. This song makes Alana’s characterization more complete, explaining why she goes against Evan’s request and posts Connor’s “suicide note” online for the latest fundraising attempt for “The Connor Project.” “.
The film portrays the grief of Murphys in a deeply moving way. Through very moving music and moving acting, the suffering and healing of this family as suicide survivors gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. When Evan first meets Connor’s parents Cynthia and Larry Murph, the couple appear well-mannered and reserved, but the close-up on Cynthia’s face after Evan hears the news tells of his struggle between his tumultuous emotions and maintaining calm. Evan later confesses in the movie, “I’ve never seen someone so sad before,” and this scene even shows it in its brevity.
“Requiem” is the best part of the film with excellent cinematography, complex emotions and the large amount of information conveyed in short clips. “Requiem” shows Connor’s sister Zoe, Larry and Cynthia’s refusal to mourn Connor for very different reasons. Zoe is shown speeding down a deserted street in the middle of the night. When she almost loses control of her vehicle but suddenly grabs the steering wheel back and brakes hard at a red light, Zoe sobs as she chants, “Why should I play the grieving girl and lie?” Zoe refuses to mourn Connor as she remembers his tendency towards violence and how he has made her suffer throughout her life. This confession illustrates Zoe as “the other child” whose brother and sister constantly demand their parents’ full attention.
Cynthia is shown sitting alone on Connor’s bed, staring into the darkness. She is reluctant to change the decor of Connor’s bedroom, refusing to give up her memory associated with her son. Cynthia’s reluctance to mourn for Connor explains why she wants to hear Evan’s stories with Connor.
In his office, Larry hides his emotions, dressed professionally and walking around an office full of his colleagues. They all turn to look at him as he passes. Larry’s visible anxiety shows just how much excessive attention and rumors impact grievers. This scene foreshadows the audience shaming the Murphys later in the film, when people start to wonder why Connor left his “suicide note” with his friend instead of his family. From these scenes, the film emphasizes the power of social media, as people’s comments could make “Project Connor” a success in days and turn the lives of the Murphys upside down in hours.
The film is meaningful overall with absolutely must-listen music, and it shows how teens and their families are affected by mental health issues. “Dear Evan Hansen,” in the words of the trailer, is a “deeply moving experience,” so don’t forget to bring handkerchiefs when you’re at the movies.