‘Dear Evan Hansen’ movie aims to keep inspiring audiences after success of Broadway show

By Peter Sblendorio

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a love letter to humanity, the stars in the movie musical believe.

Adapted from the Tony-winning stage show, the new film follows a teenage boy’s journey to find himself and connect with others as he struggles with social anxiety.

“I always say people come to the movies to see themselves,” says Julianne Moore, who plays Evan’s mother, Heidi. “They don’t come to see you. So the biggest compliments I’ve ever received as an actor is when somebody says, ‘I saw that movie and that’s just like me!’

“So giving people that, giving people a place to find their shared humanity, is a wonderful thing, and in a show like this, where it’s so much about connection and mental health, that reflection is profound. It’s not skirting around anything.”

Like the original Broadway production, the film — out Sept. 24 in theaters — stars Ben Platt as the title character, who is advised by his therapist to write an uplifting letter to himself every day to cope with his anxiety. Each letter is addressed “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Evan is devastated when another misunderstood student, Connor, finds one of his letters and takes it from him. Connor takes his own life soon after and is found with the letter, which his family assumes is a suicide note written for Evan.

But Evan struggles to explain he barely knew Connor, whose parents embrace him, thinking he was their son’s best friend.

“I was, I think, 45 when I saw this, and Evan spoke so deeply to me, not because I was a teenage boy, but because his message had such a universality to it,” says Amy Adams, who plays Connor’s mother, Cynthia, in the movie.

“This message of wanting to be seen, of feeling like you’re always trying. And then also the message of the parents was so profound to me, the experience of parenting. I just think it plays on so many levels.”

The Broadway show was an instant hit, winning six Tonys in 2017, including best musical. Platt, 27, won best actor in a musical.

The actor said it was important for him to maintain separation between his own personality and Evan’s as he got back into the role for the film.

“I did lose some weight and shaved my face and grew my hair out, and just did some things to really separate from my kind of natural state, which was very helpful,” Platt explained.

“And then in terms of his kind of manifestations of his anxiety, I pulled very much from the same kind of toolbox and instincts as the stage performance, and just sort of toned down for the sense of intimacy and the camera.”

Cast members say they’re impressed by the way the story connects with viewers of all ages.

“I think what was so inspiring to so many people is that this musical isn’t just one for one group of people or one generation,” says Kaitlyn Dever, who portrays Connor’s sister, Zoe.

“It really allows for, I think, all generations to relate to it in some way. If you’re a parent or a friend or a son or a daughter that is grieving, or if you’re just dealing with anxiety in high school and not knowing how to move through life, or you haven’t figured out who you are yet, there are so many different types of characters that are very, very relatable.”

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