By Scott Michael Bosco
What are PEARLS? PEARLS are films when released weren't accepted by the public and resulted in financial disaster for the studio, and garnered a general negative reputation. Despite this reaction these films have found their way to being accepted either in other countries, garnering awards, and a fan base. These films are in their own way, are gems holding meanings, and a stature becoming cult favorites. They are worth a second look now long disassociated from their original release publicity. Now they are gems, or PEARLS, rare finds.
NOTE: Spoilers Alert
The musical genre has long been an alternate way to tell a story. It reaches into the soul using tones to convey emotion. It envelopes the viewer in aural sensation somehow relaying a message that transpires words.
Music is a master of igniting emotional responses. It breaks the wall between the visual and speaks directly to the soul, and emotions.
When stage productions make that transference to the screen changes are part of the processes. In terms of musicals, it is not unusual that these changes will delete songs, add songs, and even reappropriate them to different scenes.
In the past vastly huge successful stage productions finding their way to the screen have had some, and all of the previously mentioned done.
Case in point, THE SOUND OF MUSIC had a major song changed to a different scene, a song deleted and the addition of a new song as well. This is a given when changing style format.
When I first saw the trailer for DEAR EVAN HANSON it conveyed to me a very dramatic story enhanced with song. What enamored me was the complexity of the narrative mixed in a musical format.
Dealing with issues of a mentally challenged individual and complex situation he finds himself in was well presented by the trailer. It made me extremely interested to see this played out.
Do to Covid I was unable to see the film in the theater so I eventually viewed it when it became available as an On Demand rental. I was not disappointed. In fact, it was more than I had hoped for.
The film easily touched upon deep issues and delivered them seamlessly. I was also surprised by the growing nature of the storyline which developed much more than originally depicted.
Everyone performed in the highest fashion. The talent gathered was exceptional.
I was also taken by the director’s choices on various levels. When Evan sings of his friendship to the family who lost their son it is in the dining room – at the end of the table in front of a window, as he stands before a breakfront and two lamps. This is the same position he stands at the end when he admits to not knowing their son – the story arch is wonderfully exhibited.
When the mother of Connrad, the deceased son, knots a neck tie around Evan she is literally tying him into the position she wants, forcing him to comply.
The last shot of the film frames Evan against the apple orchard. The last shot is of that orchard. Signifying Evan’s growing from the situation that transpired. The orchard is a place of growth – for Evan, growing up.
The characters that surround Evan are challenges for him. None aid him in a supportive way. In fact each have very selfish ideals.
Nik Doani as Jared Kalwani portrays a “Family Friend. This is the only person Evan associates with and considers a friend. Yet Jared quickly corrects Evan relegating him a “Family Friend”. He helps Evan only when a monetary amount is mentioned. He also almost cringes when having to stand in graduation pics as well.
Then there’s Amanda Stenberg as Alana Beck. A girl who claims, and sings, she is like Evan – challenged with social and mental challenges. Bullshit. She does extremely well, and is extremely motivated and ambitious. This is a girl that appears sweet but is a calculating siren. She quickly starts the funding for a crowdfunding campaign through The Connor Project to reopen the orchard. She pounces on Evan when he does not deliver and ruins everything when she has the audacity of post the letter Evan had written as desperate attempt to raise money. To top things off at the end of the film she stares down at Evan devoid of guilt. She is a challenged person – devoid of care, concern, consideration and depth. She is a spoiled brat in need of attention at any cost. Most likely to grow up to be a politician.
On a imamate level there is Conrad’s mother. This is a weak, self-absorbed woman. Because of her Evan is pushed in to be nice and attach himself to the doomed situation. His concern over this woman’s grief is taken in and the lie is born.
Lastly, there is Kaitlyn Dever as Zoe Murphy. She is the least abrasive, but still ultimately shows her self as a product of her up bringing. She’s drawn in by what Evan tells her of things her brother said about her. She’s somewhat unresponsive to things she heard concerning Evan and her brother, but her ears perk up when she is mentioned. Of course, Evan is only telling her things that he actually feels about her; disguising it as coming her brother – yet she falls for them. Even at the end when all is revealed she only responds when she realizes the words she herd didn’t come from her bother. Never does she put together it is Evan’s feelings for her that were spoken. She was seemingly falling for Evan yet never gives him credit for how he tried to make them feel. Most of all she never questions her mother’s part in extenuating Evan’s part.
All these characters are extremely self-involving. No concern travels from them except when something is taken from them. They are not givers. The mother’s only bright side is when we hear from daughter, Zoe, that the mother is concerned Evan might do something to himself. However, remember this is a woman who is neurotic in in her journey of self-awareness and portral.
Narrative-wise the story is set with a situation populated with characters allowing Evan to learn and grow in dealing with a difficult situation and harsh annoying people. His somewhat self-employed social anxiety issues are challenged and, over come, enough to learn from and face life that much better.
Another issue excellently touched is the reaction of both Zoe and her father to the death of Conner (brother/son) who takes his life. Conner had not been the nicest person, each are unable to properly grieve due to the negative memories made by Conner. Eventually both come to terms and let go of their hurt feelings, forgive, and feel the pain of loss. I personally have dealt with this with my brother; and it was perfectly conveyed.
The film is heightened by excellent performances. So much so I don’t how Ben Pratt wouldn’t be nominated for an Oscar. His facial expressions, body movements and ticks are right on target. I worked for Upjohn Health Care and was assigned to care for various persons diagnosed with different conditions. Believe me, his performance is on target; amazingly so.
There has been a lot of negative reactions posted, and written about this film. Mostly from those who are comparing it to the stage version, and their disappointment. To them I say, “Grow up.” As stated in this piece, that is something that happens.
In truth the music, and songs in the film are just “okay”. There are only perhaps 3 that are above average. Then again written by the persons who wrote LA LA LAND, a musical with actors that can’t sing - what can I say.
The condemnation of this film for the reasons stated seem to be uttered by people very much like some of the characters in this film. Unfortunate. In an age where almost everyone has “something wrong” with them I find it not just disgusting, but unsettling that this film is being put down for portraying a story in which viewers are asked to read between the lines to get meaning. It is as if those complaining have Asperger’s Syndrome and can’t/won’t accept changes. An interesting comparison since Evan in the film sings, “Waving through a Window” with life going on around him, completely disconnected. He can almost be autistic, stating what’s in his head yet unable to vocalize it. Sad.
Forget the posted poison, and hurtful things you may have heard/seen. Take the time to watch the film and see for yourself. It very much worth it, and it hold an emotional experience. This is why it is a pearl.
I hope very much, this film can be found.