Written by Aaron Radcliff:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Not because it’s Christmas but because we’re in prime Oscar-bait season. The Disaster Artist, The Shape of Water, The Post, Phantom Thread, and more have been or will soon be gracing our screens. Sadly, I must’ve been on Cinema Claus’ naughty list this year because a majority of these movies won’t hit wide release for me to see before the end of the year, assuming they’re even willing to show them in my little podunk area of operation.
Fortunately, the same can’t be said for The Greatest Showman.
Honestly, I’d been far more excited for this than I had any right to be. Sure, Hollywood may have taken liberties in showcasing the life of an admittedly less-than-savory person, but it has the same lyricists who worked on La La Land (which I loved), pretty colors, and Hugh Jackman; and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some historical inaccuracies keep me from watching 6′ 2″ of solidified Australian handsome.
The Greatest Showman tells the CliffNotes version of how P.T. Barnum overcame his humble beginnings and went on to found the world-famous Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.
I say “CliffNotes” because that’s exactly how the whole movie plays out. We see the major moments of Barnum’s life (presented in a very rose-tinted fashion) and move on to the next scene with little to no reflection on the events that transpired. This cripples the movie to an incredible degree. The whole film is more a series of music numbers with a transitional scene in between, each scene simply establishing a reason for the next song to play.
At the end of the day, this is a musical. Many below-par films have been saved thanks to their music. If there’s at least one thing that the film does exceptionally well, it’s the music and the performances. The biggest criticism against the music is how it doesn’t fit the time of the plot (modern music overtop of 1800’s imagery can be a bit jarring). However, I don’t mind the music because it invokes the idea of Barnum being ahead of his time in the entertainment industry.
It’s these musical numbers that allows the movie to excel. Each song fits the tone of the movie with each set piece becoming more and more spectacular. Each of the performers audibly gives their all to the songs and it becomes immediately apparent that this was always intended to be the focus of the film (an obvious statement for a musical, I know). The songs illicit a far stronger emotional response than any of the “serious” moments the plot presents. Truthfully, the songs are so good that they help elevate where the plot lacks.
While the songs are fantastic, the actors are also deserving of praise, especially Hugh Jackman and Zendaya. Jackman works well as P.T. Barnum, and given how incredibly different he is when compared to his earlier role in Logan, it’s a testament to just how talented an actor he really is. Meanwhile, Zendaya does a great job as Anne Wheeler. This and her role as MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming has allowed her to establish herself more on screen in smaller, supporting roles where she has excelled thus far. She will soon be finding her way to starring roles and I feel confident that she will hold her own.
While the actors all perform their roles well and the music is incredible, I just can’t look past how fast and choppy the story is. Everything plays out more like, well, a play rather than a musical. On the stage, we could forgive things being more rushed or being less contemplative, but not on film. While this is obviously supposed to be an uplifting family musical about overcoming your struggles, achieving your dreams, and learning to stay grounded and appreciate what you have, I can’t help but think that The Greatest Showman would’ve benefited focusing more on the fascinating aspects of Barnum’s life as a traditional biopic, much like Finding Neverland.
At the end of the day, The Greatest Showman isn’t a bad movie. Far from it. If you love musicals or have a family, this is would be a great holiday treat and you’ll want to buy the soundtrack immediately. But if you’re wanting a musical with a strong story like Dreamgirls, La La Land, or Chicago then you’ll leave entertained but slightly let down.
Score: 7 out of 10
Image via 20th Century Fox