Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Dear Evan Hansen.I will be direct, and, unlike Evan Hansen, I will be honest: Dear Evan Hansen is a bad movie. It’s misguided at nearly every turn, from its anonymously constructed direction to its morally icky treatment of lies to its central miscasting. A fascinating failure at every turn… emphasis on “fascinating.”
See, I haven’t stopped thinking about Dear Evan Hansen since I saw it, and not just in a “that was very bad” way. It’s an adaptation of an iconic, acclaimed musical, and I can see where those accolades come from; its music is powerfully melodious, its themes are emotionally engaging, and I can absolutely see how its central miscasting would play like gangbusters on stage. There are elements of Dear Evan Hansen that undoubtedly work, but the overall experience left me craving a singular experience of, like, one of these elements undoubtedly working.
If you had a similar viewing experience to me — or if you genuinely bought into the film adaptation as being of quality (more power to you!) — I’m here to recommend you some similar movies through a cyber-window. From teenage ennui to lies spiraling out of control to propulsive, pop-driven tunes, these films contain many of the elements within Dear Evan Hansen, but with a stronger authorial voice. Here are seven movies like Dear Evan Hansen to find you after your experience, however that experience may have left you.
Dear Evan Hansen may be a movie made for all theater kids, but Camp is a movie about all theater kids. The indie musical dramedy, which gave a young Anna Kendrick her breakout role, follows a group of teens at a performing arts summer camp in upstate New York. While rehearsing and performing well-known tunes from composers like Stephen Sondheim, Burt Bacharach, and the Rolling Stones, this group of high-functioning but highly anxious young adults must search within their budding hearts and souls to find the truths about who they are going to become. Mining familiar teenage topics like crushes and body image with a welcome sense of authenticity, Camp is anything but.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
But if what you want is camp, well, here you go. Like Dear Evan Hansen, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is a stage musical adaptation about a shy high schooler gaining a sense of self-confidence thanks to a newfound identity, with swoopingly catchy songs to boot. But Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is constantly, thrillingly wed to the idea of “authenticity” rather than, uh, “outright lies” in its coming-of-age narrative. As a leading performer in a title role, Max Harwood has a much stronger sense of how to play the big notes of musicals while understanding that the film camera can catch every choice no matter how small; it is a revelatory performance. As Jamie keeps figuring out who he is, either as his burgeoning drag queen persona or as “himself,” you will keep talking about him.
The Greatest Showman
One of the unilateral successes of Dear Evan Hansen in any form is its score. Composed by the acclaimed duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the music is gobsmacked with bangers, soaring melodies, giant moments of emotional catharsis, and painful sincerity. But all of the music’s pleasures conflict (and not intentionally, I fear) with the moral corruptions at the core of Dear Evan Hansen‘s plotting; it is candy being purposed to sell poison.
The Greatest Showman, also featuring the work of Pasek and Paul, is a much more palatable fusion of theme and melody. Working in even more of an accessibly pop-driven mold, Pasek and Paul’s tunes cause the beyond-earnest, enjoyably formulaic Hugh Jackman vehicle to play as crowd pleasingly as humanly possible. Yes, the source of The Greatest Showman might be problematic, but as a self-contained work of musical, cinematic expression, this showman is the greatest display of what happens when music theory and storytelling goals meet exactly where they should.
Men, Women & Children
Dear Evan Hansen also aims to examine and satirize our younger generation’s relationship with social media, with Evan’s lies and the retroactive mythologization of Connor refracting and amplifying through everyone’s curated feeds. The film pretty much does nothing with these ideas, but one performer shines through all the muck with a much-needed sense of humanity: Kaitlyn Dever.
It is through this weirdly specific lens that Men, Women & Children plays as such a curious analogue to Dear Evan Hansen. Directed by Jason Reitman, the ensemble film presents a series of vignettes about how the Internet has affected us all in varying, splintered, and toxic ways, from men to women to children. It is — once again with the directness — not very good, though not in the same ways as Dear Evan Hansen (if anything, it’s a bit too laser-focused on its glum tone, playing like an overwrought melodrama). But, again, Dever outshines everyone around her, giving her tale of introversion, dramatic love, and Tumblr posting a set of endearing stakes the rest of the film simply cannot meet.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Before delivering such an uninspired vision of cinematic adolescence in Dear Evan Hansen, director Stephen Chbosky delivered one of exacting, vital, and resonant power. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, adapted from Chbosky’s own novel, feels like an obvious statement of purpose for the kind of work Chbosky could do on Evan Hansen. But at every turn, from its authentically cast performers to its mixture of sentimentality and pain to its tactile visual language, it is the superior picture. It will make you crave desperately for the kinds of raw, overwhelming feelings of discovery felt during this time, while also understanding why it can feel so raw and overwhelming at the time. The perks in this film are plentiful.
Six Degrees of Separation
A film based on an acclaimed stage production, starring a budding superstar, about a series of lies that spiral out of control with shifting feelings of empathy and classism — Six Degrees of Separation presents a lively path that Dear Evan Hansen could have followed. Starring Will Smith as a young con artist who tricks Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland into thinking he’s someone he’s not, the sparkling, funny, and tragic film (from the play by John Guare) succeeds both in fidelity of and invention within theatre-to-film adaptation.
World’s Greatest Dad
As I slogged my way through Dear Evan Hansen, I couldn’t help but think there’s a gem of a pitch-black comedy buried in there, an acerbic and irreverent look at what happens when other’s tragedies become our triumphs. Then I realized I just wanted to watch World’s Greatest Dad again.
Directed by comedy legend Bobcat Goldthwait and starring comedy legend Robin Williams, World’s Greatest Dad features Williams as an embittered high school poetry teacher with an embittered teenage son (Daryl Sabara). But when Williams’ son dies in a particularly, hmm, let’s go with “unsettling” accident, Williams realizes he can rewrite the picture-perfect image of what he wished his career, family, and life could’ve looked like. This film is cringe-inducing, devastatingly funny, and emotionally pulverizing. It’s the true promise of the premise inherent in Dear Evan Hansen, and while it doesn’t have any show-stopping tunes, it has one of Williams’ greatest, most underrated performances to tide you over.
“This is the fight of our lives.”
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