Linda Cook review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is a musical that will resonate with young people

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“Dear Evan Hansen” is a flawed musical based on an award-winning stage production. 

That doesn’t mean it won’t resonate with people of any age who have social anxiety and know what it’s like to feel as though they’re always on the outside.

Ben Platt reprises his stage role as Evan Hansen, a high-school student who is beyond awkward.

Evan is crippled by social anxiety. He’s bullied in the halls and uncertain about nearly every moment of his life. His supportive, hard-working mother (Julianne Moore) does her best to be there for her troubled son.

To make matters worse, he has a broken arm.

Evan’s therapist has given him an assignment: He is supposed to write a letter to himself every day to remind himself why that day is going to be a good one.

Evan tries to be positive in the letter, which he composes at a school computer. But he just can’t do it, and his misery comes out in the words.

He signs the letter “Me” and prints. it Another student, the extremely disturbed Connor (Colton Ryan) swipes it. Connor signs Evan’s cast, saying something about that way they both can pretend they have friends.

Connor takes off with the letter. Evan worries about what Connor might do with it. Evan cannot imagine where the letter will end up.

Then Connor commits suicide, and the letter is found with him.

Now Connor’s grieving parents (Amy Adams plays his mother) think Evan might have some good news for them. Did their angry son have a secret friend … maybe a secret life? They have Evan over for dinner, where they ask him question after question.

Their daughter Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever) is Evan’s longtime crush. Because Evan does not know how to handle the situation, he consoles them with fictional tales about Connor, telling the bereaved family that Connor loved them and that he and Connor were indeed good friends.

And then things spiral out of Evan’s control as the lie moves forward into a campaign.

A good friend bought me the soundtrack, which I have enjoyed for some time (my favorite number is “Requiem.”)

Sometimes it’s obvious that Platt is older than the character he plays. The finale fizzles. The movie would have made more of an impact had its running time been cut. Still, I like the messages in this film with its relatable characters: Lies can get out of hand, especially when social media spreads the word. Young people are not alone in their anxiety.

Unlike the stage production, this won’t be an award-winning movie. But its earnest themes will touch some lives.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

3 stars

Rated: PG-13 for content about suicide and other adult themes, and foul language.

Running time: Two hours and 17 minutes.

At Cinemark, Davenport; Regal, Moline; and Palms 10, Muscatine.

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