I love a good musical. But is The Greatest Showman that great?
With the overwhelming masterpiece that was La La Land changing my life last year, I knew that I had to see The Greatest Showman. Boasting such a phenomenal cast, choreography and music (by the same lyricist behind La La Land), I was excited to see what director Michael Gracey could bring to the table.
I feel the urge to reiterate, this is a musical.
People walking in expecting a serious, historically accurate biopic about P.T. Barnum’s career will probably be rather disappointed. The movie does expect audiences to suspend their beliefs during the film, whether it be characters suddenly breaking into song-and-dance, or different unrealistic scenarios unfolding.
From a musical standpoint however, it is truly a showstopper. The songs are catchy, well-produced and memorable, the choreography is dynamic and the performers do a solid job of bringing the dance moves to life. And with their powerful hit song “This is Me” being nominated for multiple awards, you can be sure that the songwriters and composers do not disappoint.
The Greatest Showman is also a very gorgeous-looking movie, garnering spectacular sets, beautiful cinematography and great costume designs.
The film doesn’t stray away from dealing with heavier themes either. The trailers illustrate Barnum as a conventional hero that helps empower different people with ‘unique abilities’ by bringing them into the spotlight. But history is far more bleak than a generic fairytale, and thus I was impressed to see the movie touch on the controversy and backlash that erupted from the city when it came to Barnum’s circus.
It wasn’t just the acts that were being harassed for being ‘freaks’, it was P.T. Barnum’s reputation that was being stained for promoting this kind of entertainment. To add to this, at times Barnum would belittle or alienate his performers, showing the disparity and segregation that people had towards ‘different people’.
Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum was such a brilliant casting choice.
He brings a personal flair and charisma that not a lot of other actors can do. Plus, his vibrant experience in the show business proves to be very advantageous to his performance.
That’s not to say that the rest of the cast isn’t brilliant either. Zac Efron is also great as Jackman’s “apprentice”. His character is used in a way to effectively humanise the different perspectives people have towards the circus and how they can change or develop over time.
Zendaya, Sam Humphrey, Keala Settle and the entire cast of performers all demonstrated the energy and vigour that is to be expected from this kind of musical, which makes the choreography much more magical. Michelle Williams was also a great addition, however I would’ve liked more out of her character as she was more or less sidelined throughout the second and third act.
Unfortunately, The Greatest Showman isn’t without its flaws.
The movie attempts to throw in as much as they can in the 109 minutes. They rush through so many important plot points that the audience doesn’t have time to process the weight of it all. In many cases, characters will begin a big task, have maybe a couple of lines of dialogue for problems, and by the very next scene, they have completed it.
We don’t appreciate Barnum’s show because he created it almost instantaneously in the film. Another example of this is Barnum’s daughter, who goes from putting on ballet shoes for the first time to mastering it within one abrupt scene.
Not only does it feel incredibly rushed, we don’t have a sense of time in the narrative. We can’t tell if scenes jump to the next in days, weeks or months (hell, maybe even years), because things happen so quickly that would normally take a longer period of time.
The Greatest Showman presents itself as a ‘larger than life’ musical about being different and unique.
The film focuses so much on breathtaking musical pieces that it forgets to tell a powerful substantive narrative. It’s a very hopeful and enthusiastic outlook on life, which can feel two-dimensional and naive. And while it does make attempts to explore the conflict both externally and internally within the characters (as said before), it misses the emotional mark by rushing through their storytelling.
In addition, The Greatest Showman is set in the 1850s. This is a historical time period, and while the costumes and set design were very illustrative of that, I felt that other aspects of the film did not accurately reflect the period.
The songs incorporated feel very much like modern, 21st century songs. If I’m not mistaken, some even have electronic elements introduced into the pieces, which for me felt very out of place. This can also be displayed through the choreography, which is also rather modern.
What’s even more ambitious is their Madonna reference. I don’t believe she was born for at least a couple more decades.
The Greatest Showman is a mixed bag. While the narrative and emotional marks feel lacklustre, it boasts an incredible soundtrack and gorgeous production design. It’s not one of our favourite movies of 2017, but it is still a perfectly fine film to go out and see these holidays, especially if you enjoy musicals.