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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Movie Reviews: New Releases for Sept. 24

Dear Evan Hansen, The Starling, Ema

Posted By on September 23, 2021, 10:00 AM

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click to enlarge Colton Ryan and Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • Colton Ryan and Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen **1/2
There’s an entire treatise to be written about all the things that have been changed from the hit Broadway musical for this film adaptation, without addressing that it probably could never work as a film in the first place. It doesn’t help to have Ben Platt—who was playing a college student a decade ago in Pitch Perfect—reprise his Broadway role as high-school senior Evan Hansen, a lonely kid who tangles himself in a knot of deception after a letter he writes to himself as a therapy exercise winds up in the pocket of troubled classmate Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), and is mistaken for Connor’s suicide note. Turning teen mental-health crises into the stuff of farce has been a big red flag for many people, but spare theatrical staging and the earnest emotions of the songs (by the Greatest Showman/La La Land team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) performed live can dodge some of those issues. In cinematic close-up, and with director Stephen Chbosky making questionable staging decisions for the musical numbers, it becomes far too easy to focus on the queasy-making aspects. Meanwhile, new songs and different plot points are added to address the less-than-heroic actions of some characters, in a way that feels like rearranging proverbial deck chairs on a proverbial iceberg-damaged ship. Some of the tunes are still lovely, while Julianne Moore and Amy Adams—as the respective mothers of Evan and Connor—bring sincerity to parental pain. Meanwhile, those who love the stage version will be frustrated by the changes, and those who hate the concept on general principle aren’t likely to think, “Oh, now it’s fixed.” Available Sept. 24 in theaters. (PG-13)

Ema *1/2
For all the words at my writerly disposal, sometimes I’m tempted to bring it down to the bare bones of, “This movie was dumb as shit.” There is at least a promising concept at the outset of co-writer/director Pablo Larraín’s drama: A Chilean couple—dancer Ema (Mariana di Girólamo) and choreographer Gastón (Gael García Bernal)—have their relationship thrown into turmoil when they decide to renounce legal rights to the son they adopted, yet who turns out to have serious emotional problems. A fascinating morality play could emerge from that notion, exploring what constitutes a “real” parent/child relationship, and whether or not Ema and Gaston’s choice was defensible. But Larraín ultimately isn’t interested in that idea as all, instead swerving into a hot-and-bothered tale of what Ema decides to do next. It’s ridiculous stuff, tarted up with a bunch of sex, dancing and flame-thrower-ing to distract from the fact that Larraín tips off fairly early on what should at least have been a big revelation, even if it’s a stupid one, and then spends a few minutes explaining the obvious thing that was revealed. Not a moment of discernible human emotion dribbles out of di Girólamo’s performance, which might at least have been lurid fun in the hands of someone like, say, Paul Verhoeven. Instead, it’s just a missed opportunity—horny and overwrought, yeah, but dumb as shit. Available Sept. 24 via SLFSatHome.org. (NR)

The Starling **
See feature review. Available Sept. 24 via Netflix. (PG-13)

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