There’s definitely a degree of sweet, in-your-face irony involved when a movie ostensibly about overcoming bullying is itself ridiculed into the ground. Dear Evan Hansen stars Ben Platt (who originated the role on Broadway) as the titular Evan Hansen, a high schooler with social anxiety. After his classmate kills himself, Evan lets a lie spiral out of control when the grieving family believes he was their son’s close friend. Manipulation and angst ensues.
Dear Evan Hansen won six Tony Awards in 2017, but the movie adaptation flopped at the box office when it premiered last month. For anyone who was even slightly on the edges of film or musical theatre Twitter and TikTok, the flop comes as no surprise — the pre-release buzz had been, uh, not good. But why exactly are TikTokers being so brutal about this movie? No one could ever properly answer that question, but if you’re confused by the Hansen hate, here are the major things fuelling it.
Disclaimer: This is not to be taken as a review of the film or stage production, but an effort to shed light into how and why it has been memed into oblivion.
The Plot, aka the “Who let this happen?” response
“The music is great, just ignore the plot.” – Musical theatre fans everywhere, forever.
Unlike scores of movie adaptations before it, the Dear Evan Hansen movie doesn’t struggle to stay faithful to the stage version’s plot; instead, the issue is that it shines too bright a light on its already glaring flaws. Popular TikTok creator and film critic Lena Wilson (@neilsmom) put it this way: “I think the problem is a lot of critics are learning the plot for the first time through the movie, which is a tough pill to swallow.” For context, here’s a brief summary of what goes down in Dear Evan Hansen (with major spoilers):
Evan Hansen is a teenager with social anxiety. His therapist recommends he writes letters to himself about what will be good about each day. Connor Murphy, a fellow outsider who bullies Evan, steals one of those letters. After Connor commits suicide, the Murphy family mistakenly latches onto this letter as proof that Evan was Connor’s true best friend. Evan fails to correct them. He gets caught up in the lies and eventually becomes a viral sensation, reminding struggling teens everywhere that they are not alone. As the lies grow, Evan gets everything he ever wanted: recognition from his peers, interest from his crush (Connor’s allegedly grieving sister), and most of all, love from the Murphy family — something he feels he never got from his single mother (who is clearly doing her best). His lies are eventually discovered, but then Evan is sort of… just… forgiven for his misdeeds, by both the other characters and the narrative itself?
Since the show’s debut, and despite its rapturous reception, a subset of audience members have felt Evan is a manipulative liar, and unworthy of the show that has been built around him. Despite constant reminders that he is profoundly anxious and “on the outside looking in,” Evan is still a white guy who is totally not gay (more on that soon). Today’s audiences might have a hard time buying into the “otherness” that is designed to let us root for his harmful decisions — not to mention the fact that he eventually achieves forgiveness without ever really paying a price for his wild lies.
So: If you already liked the original musical and weren’t bothered by the plot’s twists and turns, then you might still like the movie. If you already hated the original musical, then vindication is yours. And if the movie is where you discover the plot for the first time, then prepare your mind to be filled with confusion and hate.
Ben Platt’s age
Ben Platt does not look like a high schooler (unsurprising, given he was 27 at the time of filming). What he does look like, apparently, is meme-worthy. So why was Platt cast over any of his talented (and more age appropriate) successors of the role, like Andrew Barth Feldman, Noah Galvin, or Jordan Fisher? Well, many attribute the reason to the show’s producer, who happens to be…
Ben Platt’s dad
Marc Platt (Ben’s dad) is a well-known and highly successful producer behind the Dear Evan Hansen movie. Kids these days hate nepotism! Well, maybe not kids of high-ranking Hollywood insiders; those kids are probably cool with a little nepotism. Yes, Platt originated the role in workshops and on Broadway. But history had already shown us how that worked out with the Rent stage-to-screen adaptation.
Oh, Evan is straight?
If you assumed this was a queer story, you are not alone. Do yourself a favour and read Madison Malone Kircher’s piece for Slate, which details the widespread belief in Evan’s queerness (as well as the toxic masculinity at play), and the fallout from the discovery that this story is about something else altogether.
Once again: It really is incredibly meme-worthy
Ben Platt’s crying face. Ben Platt’s run. Society’s endless capacity to mock theatre kids. I usually don’t feel great when musical theatre is yanked from its home on the stage — a safe space for cringe — and thrust into a spotlight, where jocks and geeks and goths and all corners of the status quo can subject it to mass scrutiny. (This is me coming out as a Lin Manuel Miranda apologist).
But now, rather than going on the defensive, traditional theatre kids are also jumping at the chance to mock Dear Evan Hansen in front of a wider audience. Perhaps this union of theatre lovers and theatre haters alike can help explain why so much of the internet hates this movie.
If you’re looking for an alternative show about anxious kids struggling to fit in, we recommend checking out Be More Chill. There’s less lying to seduce a dead classmate’s sister, and more finding sci-fi solutions to navigating the treacherous waters of high school popularity.