The Greatest Showman Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Well choreographed dance scenes, catchy songs and a lot of gloss turn The Greatest Showman into a fun time at theatres but it ultimately fails to impress, as this musical has neither depth nor soul.
Genre: Biopic / Drama / Musical / Romance
Director: Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Ellis Rubin, Skylar Dunn, Michelle Williams, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Sam Humphrey, Keala, Settle Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Zendaya, Paul Sparks, Zac Efron, Gayle Rankin, Eric Anderson & Fredric Lehne.
Run Time: 105 min.
US Release: 20 December 2017
UK Release: 26 December 2017
German Release: 04 January 2018 I have stated several times before, in other reviews, that I am not the greatest fan of musical pictures. For one part, I seldom can connect to the story and characters but then there is also the fact that if done wrong, no matter how good the actors are, they always come out looking like fools. That is not to say that I can’t respect a musical if it is good. Done well, no matter if it appealed to me personally or not, I will give it a good rating and there have been quite a few ones in the past that not only captivated me but were darn good movies in general. I am talking about films like Les Miserable, La La Land or the Disney live-action adaptations (and don’t get me talking about their fantastic animations).
I was really looking forward to seeing The Greatest Showman in theatres and couldn’t wait for it to be released here in Germany. My interest for it was raised, when I saw that it polarised critics and audiences. When the credits rolled, though, I left the cinema with an empty and disappointed feeling, due to the following reasons…
This has been promoted as being a shiny and polished biographical sing-a-long picture, about P.T. Barnum. I would rather say that it took B.T. Barnum’s showmanship as an idea and presented that on screen because in no way is this a biography. I am not saying that it should have followed Barnum's true-life story to a beat, but to completely rewrite this man’s history and personality, just to create a PG family-friendly flick, is in my opinion wrong.
The weakest aspect this flick has is the story and development of its characters. It is overstuffed with subsidiary narrations, popping up left and right but never explored and thus missing its chance of creating an emotionally deep plot. The trailer sells it as being a film about the relationship between P.T. Barnum and the “freaks” he employs, but that aspect of the story is just being glanced over quickly while focusing fast on the next catchy song and Barnum’s following step in his business. Wrong choices that were made by Barnum are being solved in the last 15 minutes, using a lame apologetic song to which everything he did is forgotten and forgiven. The plot does not even focus on Barnum's chequered past, but rather sells his persona as having been that of a charming sly fox.
It does have one positive quality narrative-wise, being the fact that this musical does manage to properly entertain, even if it is at a very shallow level. The Greatest Showman is a perfect throwaway film to watch with the family at matinee times.
Hugh Jackman is as charismatic as ever, playing B.T. Barnum. He gives a good performance and is very likeable but that is also part of the problem, as the personality of Barnum is diluted to that of a friendly scoundrel, who cheats banks into giving him loans for his business ideas. His relationship with his wife Charity is used as a springboard to explain his motivation to become successful. Michelle Williams, who portrays Charity, gives a very strong and believable performance as the voice of reason that Barnum ignores. Her role, however, is sidelined in the second act and demoted to nothing more than a side character. Then there are the characters of Zac Efron and Zendaya, who are completely fictional. Efron’s Phillip Carlyle is a composite character, partially based on Barnum’s partner James Anthony Bailey, while Zendaya plays the beautiful trapeze artist Anne Wheeler. Both give amazing performances, especially Efron, and their chemistry is good but I was disappointed at the amount of attention this flick gives the two most attractive persons of the circus. The focus should have been equally split between their growing relationship and the bond that formed between all circus performers, as they were outcasts of society. Rebecca Ferguson was possibly the weakest link in this ensemble of stars. She portrayed the “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind and her character was dismissed just as fast as being introduced. I wish that her music-act would have been more in terms of that periodic timeline, than the modern pop song we obtained. Gracey and director of photography Seamus McGarvey made use of some very unique shots for this film, that added to the awe and wonder of Barnum’s mystical world, and most of this musical feels as if it was performed on stage, thanks to the cinematography. What bugged me was the computer imagery, which is lacking in quality, especially when used on background scenery. The animals (tigers and elephants) that were shown at the end of the movie, also looked unrealistic. Every musical stands or falls with the songs and music picked and performed by its actors, and The Greatest Showman does contain a number of impressive vocal performances and catchy numbers, developed by La La Land’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. In fact, this managed to successfully do what 2013th Great Gatsby miserably failed to, and that is to merge modern music with a period piece. The only issue with the music is that, since the story was incredibly shallow, the songs that were meant to carry most of the emotional weight, fell flat.
Verdict: I am extremely torn about The Greatest Showman, on one hand, it is a movie that manages to entertain at an incredible level, no questions there. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to offer much else; there are no memorable scenes or dialogues and while the songs are catchy, they lose all meaning once you leave the theatre. A shame, because all the performances are great and one can feel the joy that these actors brought to the set while filming. This is a musical that should have worked but the lousy written plot, as well as the watering down of P.T. Barnum’s persona and the emotional shallowness, brought it down to sheer mediocracy. This is why, as much as it pains me to write it, I can’t give this movie more than a 5.0 out of 10. If you are looking for an enjoyable flick to go see with your family and don’t mind singing, by all means, go in the morning and be entertained. For all of those that are looking for a quality movie, with depth and meaning, I recommend you better pass on this musical.