In 2015, Dear Evan Hansen made its debut on Broadway and was heavily praised for the tackling of its subject matter and the unforgettable songs that came with the story. At the 71st Tony Awards, the play was nominated for nine awards and won six, including Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical and Best Musical. Of course, when any type of media gains an impressive amount of success, Hollywood usually comes knocking and the film adaptation finally made its way into theaters on September 24, 2021. Ben Platt reprises his role as the title character, with Amy Adams (American Hustle, The Fighter), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, The Kids Are All Right), and Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give, The Darkest Minds) in the core cast of the film adaption. The film touches on the anxiety of school in the midst of the social-media age. Unfortunately, Dear Evan Hansen didn’t fare well with most critics, citing the film as misguided, superficial, and hollow.
Currently, the score on rotten tomatoes is a 33%, though audiences seemed to enjoy the movie adaption based on the score being at 90%. However, the film truly failed to make a mainstream connection as it only pulled in $7.5 million during its opening weekend. Considering the fact that the number one film, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, only garnered $13.2 million in its fourth weekend, the major release should’ve skyrocketed to the number one spot. So, what happened? Dear Evan Hansen was a well-known intellectual property with a star-studded cast. Like every other film in 2021, the coronavirus pandemic is also going to be a reason why some moviegoers opted to skip the theaters, but with films like Shang-Chi, Black Widow, F9, or A Quiet Place Part II getting record-breaking numbers in the first week, it’s quite clear that there’s a deeper reasoning behind Dear Evan Hansen’s low number. Let’s examine the possible reasons why the movie adaptation failed to connect with mainstream audiences.
The Grim and Depressing Subject Matter Likely Turned Audiences Away
Dear Evan Hansen should be applauded for bringing to light the subject of teenage suicide and it’s clear that the message behind the play/film has good intentions; however, this subject needs to have a delicate balance, and unfortunately, Dear Evan Hansen feels very hollow when it comes to tackling this topic. In the film, Connor’s death is more so a catalyst for the actions of the title character, who comes across as more of a sociopath. It never truly explores suicide and how to possibly prevent another one, instead, it’s a kid lying and singing sadly for over two hours. I can’t talk about the play because I’ve seen it. I imagine that the subject was better handled on stage based on the multiple awards that it’s won. There’s nothing wrong with having a musical that focuses on such a serious subject matter as this. However, the problem that most musicals have is that the songs tend to carry the runtime, not the plot.
That’s kind of the case here. Granted, Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t feature random singing just for the hell of it, but the singing does distract from the film overall, though it’s not the main killer of the movie. What likely kept audiences away from the film is that musicals are usually seen as fun. Though In The Heights flopped at the box office, there was still a nice buzz going into the summer weekend because of how breezy and light the movie seemed. Hairspray, High School Musical, or The Greatest Showman are some of the popular musicals that are mainly cheery. Given this whole pandemic situation, it’s likely that the audiences weren’t interested in being immersed in something so grim and depressing. This might’ve been a case of bad timing. There have been no complaints regarding the topic being an issue coming out of today’s climate, but there’s a reason why the film just didn’t attract audiences so I’m not ruling out any possibility.
Mainstream Audiences Just Don’t Care Too Much About Musicals
There’s a reason why theaters aren’t bombarded with musicals, and that’s due to the fact that mainstream audiences just don’t care too much about them. With all the hype surrounding In The Heights, that film still failed to draw at the box office. The last major musical adaptation, Cats, bombed even harder at the box office. Every now and then, musicals would catch fire and reach commercial success; however, it’s not a genre that’s universally loved. Given the failure of In The Heights, it’s not too surprising that Dear Evan Hansen just didn’t connect with the audience. As previously stated, the grim and depressing subject likely didn’t help. Is it possible that the musical would’ve done better if it had been critically praised? Probably not. In The Heights is currently standing at a strong 94% on rotten tomatoes. Plus, it’s been well documented in the past that great films don’t always mean success at the box office. Fight Club, The Wizard of Oz, The Shawshank Redemption, and Citizen Kane are considered classics; however, each film flopped in the box office during its original run. At the end of the day, Dear Evan Hansen just didn’t appeal to a wide audience.