Thursday, September 23, 2021

Musical 'Evan Hansen' and wobbly, wounded 'Starling' fly in from TIFF

Platt and Stenberg share school stuff on their plates and more.
Two more world premieres from this year's Toronto International Film Festival get to face the general masses this weekend, most notably the one that earned the honor of opening the 46th annual smorgasbord of movies on Sept. 9. That would be “Dear Evan Hansen,” and six stars from the film, based on the six-time Tony-winning musical, did their part by showing up on the red carpet, before moving inside and being treated to a warm response from ever-appreciative TIFF patrons.

Director Steven Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) tagged along, too, with his mostly appealing message movie, now opening wide on Friday. Ben Platt, who ran with the lead role on Broadway, turns the same trick on screen -- from the rousing first-day-of school start, through to a troubling, bittersweet turn -- all the while in great voice, though maybe, by now, looking a bit older than most high-school seniors usually do.

The quick gist has Platt/Evan totally lacking people skills, scared silly and worried about meeting anyone and, so, writing letters to himself as prescribed by a therapist we never see. When one of his missives gets into the hands of a schoolmate (Colton Ryan) with more radical social woes of his own -- well, a tragic situation somehow gets Evan on the road to recovery, even while representing himself as someone he may not really be.

The film's likable ensemble also seriously benefits from a quartet of formidable females -- Julianne Moore and Amy Adams, as distinctively caring mothers, and Kaitlyn Dever and Amandla Stenberg, as fellow students possibly making their own marks on the world, as well as on the title character. 

Regardless, this is Platt's film to carry, and he credibly pulls it off, especially while making amends for some deceitful ways in a story (by playwright-turned screenwriter Steven Levinson) that overtly points out the heavy-handedness of social media, too.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and suggestive references; 2:17; $ $ $ out of $5

Bird-bothered McCarthy seeks counsel from vet Kline.
This week's other festival entry comes from director Theodore Melfi, who not only helmed 2016 Best Picture nominee "Hidden Figures," but also guided Melissa McCarthy and Chris Dowd, among others, through some fine acting paces in the small, though memorable "St. Vincent" a few years earlier.

Well, guess what? Melfi, McCarthy and Dowd have reunited for "The Starling," and the title bird must have flown into a window on its way to the screen. It's that disappointing. (Actually, an opening sequence shows a closeup of the title bird in flight and looking as fake and flimsy as one of those tiny and stuffed feathered friends you could buy at any dime store in the -- ahem -- good old days.)

In fact, speaking of rickety, a plot tragedy that should provide some chicken soup for the soul, offers just so much pablum, including McCarthy wearing a football helmet to protect herself from the aforementioned dirty bird that keeps attacking her. 

One loopy bit that does click a little comes courtesy of Kevin Kline, as a veterinarian who makes us believe he used to be a successful shrink. McCarthy and Dowd, as sorrowful wife and husband, get too little to work with to produce many indelible moments of their own in a tearjerker that just never flows. "The Starling" will stream, though, starting Friday on Netflix.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: thematic material, some strong language and suggestie references; 1:44; $ $ out of $5

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