The new stage-to-film musical Dear Evan Hansen tosses out established, unspoken contracts left, right, and center. It nixes the contract between stage production and audience, dictating that the energy of live theater overrides desire for literal realism in casting, sets, and developing relationships. It violates the contract between film musical and audience, where we accept the artifice of characters breaking into song and/or dance, so long as those songs or performances sweep us out of the dull constraints of the real world with emotion or spectacle. Perhaps most famously, it breaks, breaks, and re-breaks our collective agreement that it is permissible for actors well into their twenties to pretend to be teenagers on screen, so that we may enjoy the fruits of cruel 16-hour-a-day shooting schedules and more finely honed acting instincts.
On this point, I wondered—as I think others have—whether in a way, Dear Evan Hansen might be extraordinarily effective. Most teenage-misfit stories produced by major Hollywood studios feature misfits who have, at best, slightly obscured their supernatural-yet-conventional attractiveness with costuming, or “overcome” any perceived deficiencies in catalog-model attractiveness with boundless charisma. I haven’t seen the stage version of Evan Hansen played by Ben Platt, but his cinematic incarnation is genuinely, thoroughly, irretrievably off-putting, and also played by Ben Platt.