One of the best things about Curb Your Enthusiasm is that Larry David’s characterization of himself never asks for forgiveness or even understanding. We watch David dig himself deeper and deeper into holes of his own making and cringe as he stumbles around inside those holes while his friends shake their heads and outsiders gasp, run, or fight back.
As far as I recall, no excuse is given for David’s behavior. That’s the way he is.
And it’s damn entertaining.
In Uncut Gems, we watch Adam Sandler’s character dig himself deeper and deeper into holes of his own making and we cringe there, too.
As far as I recall, no excuse is given for his behavior either. That’s the way he is.
And it’s damn entertaining (even if I wanted to take a shower after watching it).
In Dear Evan Hansen, the new movie musical based on the Broadway hit, Ben Platt’s title teen behaves despicably. Horribly. After an easy-to-correct misunderstanding, he creates upbeat lies about a boy who died from suicide. He pulls in an accomplice to fake documentation of their friendship. He realizes a relationship with the deceased’s sister (Booksmart’s Kaitlyn Dever), whom he previously only pined for from a distance. He becomes ingrained in their family to a point where he’s willing to accept their offer of the late boy’s saved-up college fund so that he can go to school.
And excuse after excuse is given for his behavior.
The result is a movie with the cringe factor of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Uncut Gems but without the entertainment value of either.
We’re expected to sympathize with Evan Hansen because he suffers from depression, a very real and very serious illness. He suffers from anxiety, a very real and very serious illness.
The film also deals with teen suicide, a very serious problem.
The film takes these issues seriously, which is to its credit. And I’m guessing — not having seen the show — that, on stage, the artificiality of theater worked to its advantage, making the material far more moving than it is on film. An actor in a crowd and singing of his inner struggles has a different feel when isolated by a spotlight on stage than it does while working through a realistic, crowded school gym on film. A lighthearted relief number in a live theater can be easier to adjust to than the same number in an otherwise grounded film, where one song, “Sincerely, Me” rivals the worst of Cats for Am-I-Really-Seeing-What-I’m-Seeing-ness.
Leaps in logic and curious behavior choices can be glossed over on stage while, on film, they can suddenly become blatant. Adaptation of one to the other is a tricky business.
Unfortunately, in Dear Evan Hansen, the camera’s eye heightens the material’s flaws with too many close-ups and too little perspective. The redundant sound of some of the songs and their earnest delivery accentuates that problem. Platt is working hard here and it shows. Supporting adults Amy Adams, Julianne Moore and Danny Pino do what’s necessary to earn their paychecks. Only Dever emerges with a possible career uptick.
But I’m not convinced shooting the show from the stage, a la the recent, outstanding Come From Away, would have been a great move, either. That’s because the film at least tries to cover for the semi-reprehensible ending of the stage version; no spoilers here. It trims out some of the eye-rolling lines and scores a few points for expanding the ending to at least address Evan’s responsibility for what happens. It also gives an expanded role to school go-getter Alana (Amandla Stenberg) in an effort to show that anxiety and depression aren’t exclusive to outcasts.
Dear Evan Hansen returns to Broadway and to the touring circuit soon. Sad to say, I’m looking forward to it less now that I’ve seen the film version.
Oh, about Platt’s age, which seems to have dominated the pre-release discussion of the film: It really isn’t a big deal. But maybe he’ll take Stockard Channing to the prom.
If you or someone you know needs help with a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255