The Greatest Showman - 2017
Director(s): Michael Gracey
Writer(s): Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon
Cinematography by: Seamus McGarvey
Editor(s): Tom Cross, Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll and Spencer Susser
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson
Synopsis: Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.
This movie has been billed as a passion project of Hugh Jackman. While to the general audience he is mostly known as the muscular, rage filled, unstoppable killing machine Wolverine, some know him as the Tony Award winning musical actor with a love for dancing and singing. The problem with this movie is that it very much feels like a passion project and not a fully realized concept. Unfortunately, Jackman doesn’t live up to the title of “The Greatest Showman” as the movie fails to deliver a consistent plot line or consistently entertaining song and dance numbers.
I will start with the things I liked before deep-diving on the flaws of this movie. Hugh Jackman fully commits as P.T. Barnum or this alternate version of P.T. since they gloss over a lot of his upbringing and practices as a businessman. You can clearly see his passion for performing as he starts to build his empire from the ground. He has a genuine glee about him as he dances and sings his way to signing deal after deal. Probably my favorite number comes during his “negotiation” with Zac Efron’s character. They are in a bar and the bartender is serving up shot after shot and is very well choreographed as both are naturals when it comes to dancing for the cameras. The rest of the cast give good performances overall, with Keala Settle as the bearded lady being a stand out.
But, that’s pretty much it.
The flow of the story is weird and jarring. This movie has no sense of time or structure. We jump so abruptly to moments of his life that we lose our bearing constantly as we don’t get a sense of how long or how hard it truly was for him to build his empire. Another aspect that suffers because of this fast cut flow is, we never have a chance to root for our protagonist since there is barely any moment of struggle. Yes, we are shown moments of struggle, but they are resolved so quickly and abruptly that they don’t really matter. Everyone agrees to join him pretty much instantly; the public gravitates to him instantly and his family waivers only for a brief moment and it’s resolved instantly as well. I just felt the movie needed at least a moment to slow down and let us connect with the issues it was presenting.
Yes, at the core it has a great message of equality. We are presented with a man willing to build an entire show and spectacle around what society have deemed as outcasts. He puts them up on stage for everyone to see and admire as “equals”. But, the film doesn’t treat them as equals as we never really get to know them. Not even one gets fleshed out or given an arc for us to connect with the “freaks” that gave P.T. the fame and glory showcased in the movie. There are moments, nuggets that feel like they could’ve been part of a better movie, especially with the relationship of Zendaya and Efron. A white man with a black woman at that time was something unheard off and shunned by society, but the movie just glosses over it and never gives us any true resolution.
As for the songs and dances of this musical, they are generic and somewhat forgettable. Yes, I found myself at times entertained by the spectacle, with the scene between Efron and Jackman being the clear stand out for me, but there was nothing truly special about the rest. It felt by the numbers, routine and sadly bland. Whenever I see a good musical I walk away with a song stuck in my head. I hum it all the way home. I hum it while I work. I hum it for weeks. When this movie ended it was as if not a single song had entered in my head.
The Greatest Showman definitely has its moments that maybe in the hands of a better writer and a better director could’ve been better fleshed out and the overall product would’ve been better for it. There are some visuals and performances that will entertain you but the end-result is a bland and forgettable movie. Hugh Jackman’s passion for performing is why I love movies.
The Greatest Showman is currently playing in theaters. You can skip this one over the holidays.
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