Film Review – The Greatest Showman


DIRECTED BY: Michael Gracey

STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Paul Sparks, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Eric Anderson, Daniel Everidge, Shannon Holtzapffel, Luciano Acuna Jr., Ellis Rubin, Ziv Zaifman, Skylar Dunn and Loren Allred

 

SYNOPSIS

The Greatest Showman celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

The Greatest Showman is a film that focuses on the life of P.T Barnum, showing him from being a penniless Orphan, to grow up and purchase a wax museum, in which he shifts his focus to hiring ‘freaks’ to serve as performers for his museum. As the shows attract a large audience, despite protests, Barnum renames his museum as ‘Barnum’s Circus’. Searching for ways to further his reputation with the upper class, he encounters Swedish singer Jenny Lind and wants to use her talents to woo them, but will this come at the expense of the circus he’s created?

The Greatest Showman is a musical drama inspired by the true of P.T Barnum and the Circus in which we follow a young orphan boy growing up to purchase a wax museum and transforming it into a variety show of ‘freaks’ and performers. The Greatest Showman marks a seven-year journey for Hugh Jackman, as this is a project that he has been passionate about since he was attached way back in 2009. The film also marks the directorial debut of Michael Gracey, who has worked as an animator and visual effects supervisor in the industry for the last few decades.

 

It’s no secret that when it comes to cinematic musicals, the genre just really isn’t my thing. I grew up absolutely detesting Grease due to how it got overplayed on television, to school plays and recently there was Tom Hooper’s 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables. Five times I’ve tried to watch that film and five times I’ve fallen asleep through it. In terms of the musical aspect of the film, I thought it was absolutely outstanding. With the film set during the 1800’s, the music numbers themselves are pretty modern, much in the vein of Broadway musical Hamilton, and it automatically sucks you into the fantasy world that Gracey and Jackman are creating around the world of P.T Burnam with the opening number ‘The Greatest Show’. All the musical numbers are, for the most part, really good and will instantly be stuck in your head, with some great choreography as well, such as ‘The Other Side’ involving Jackman and Efron in a bar but keep an eye at the bartender in that scene. Then there’s the ‘Rewrite the Stars’ sequence between Efron and Zendaya involving ropes and trapeze and the song and the choreography work wonderfully here. You can tell that this film was a passion project for Hugh Jackman, as soon as he begins singing on screen you can see the sparkle in his eyes and it comes across as infectious in his performance. The rags to riches tale has us rooting for his character and Zac Efron is a great foil to his character as Phillip Carlyle. Their character arcs run in parallel as Barnum seeks the affection of the ‘snobs’, constantly trying to win everyone over while Carlyle on the other hand already has the affection of the ‘snobs’ due to his status but is not happy with his life until he comes across Barnum, the circus and, of course, Anne Wheeler. After a few missteps, this is Zac Efron back in his element as an actor and singer, standing well alongside Hugh Jackman. This film could potentially be where we see Zendaya’s career skyrocket as I thought she was great as Anne Wheeler. While she doesn’t get that many lines, her facial expressions speak volumes, particularly in her scene with Efron during the musical number ‘Never Enough’ which makes that scene standout in the film. From the rest of the cast, Keala Settle stands out as well as out of the ‘freaks’ she gets the most to say and of course is the voice behind the Oscar-nominated song ‘This Is Me’.

 

The film is about as historically accurate as Gladiator, Braveheart and Argo, and it’s been used as a massive negative towards the film, primarily because the actual P.T Barnum was, well, a dick, and the way the film kind of plays the ‘White Knight’ angle of how he brings all the ‘Freaks’ together and though he abandons them for Jenny Lind, they kindly take him back with open arms as he’s made them a family. Granted, the film doesn’t shy away from showing Barnum was putting his ego first, whether he’d agree or not, against his family, his circus and those he brought into his world, however, it only touches the surface on that front. Speaking of Jenny Lind, her portrayal in the film won’t come across well as her falling for PT Barnum during their tour isn’t anywhere near close to the real story and while Rebecca Ferguson is fine in the role, others will question why they didn’t get Loren Allred to play the role as she’s already providing the singing voice. While the musical numbers are the main attraction, the plot is minimal at best and the majority of the characters aren’t fully developed. Personally, it’s anti-climatic to introduce ‘Dog Boy’ and not really use him. Outside of Zendaya and Keala Settle, the rest of the circus group isn’t really given much screen time or a chance to shine, Sam Humphrey and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II have a few lines but beyond that, I struggle to remember most of everyone else’s names. While I believe she was fine in her role, I will agree with people that brought it up that Michelle Williams felt underused here.

 

VERDICT

“Does it bother you that everything you are selling is fake? Do these smiles seem fake?” Basically, this quote between theatre critic Bennett and P.T Barnum over his show really sums up the divide between the critics and audiences of The Greatest Showman. Taking it from a historical standpoint, I can understand the dismay at portraying Barnum in such a family-friendly, positive light, while on the other, as a musical that’s message is about accepting who you are and embracing diversity, it’s entertaining and I can understand why people would rather be ‘hoodwinked’ than take a documentary tale. The songs are great, the choreography is very well done and the performances are good.  7/10

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