Every few years there is an attempt to revive cinematic musicals and rather than borrowing from previously successful material there have been original musicals being brought to life. Last year ‘La La Land’ was an attempt to bring style back to the musical with Jazz, dreams and Hollywood as its backdrop. This year’s attempt is a bit more conventional, ‘The Greatest Showman.’ With circuses, messages of inclusivity and Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron it should be a roaring success. The good news is that it’s entertaining, the bad…well, it’s quite a flawed film. Find out more in the review.
P.T. Barnum is a struggling entrepreneur who in a last failed investment starts a circus of ‘freaks’ and stumbles into success. Yet a pursuit of legitimacy and approval finds his interest pulled elsewhere away from family and his show. Meanwhile, opposition to his show mounts and threatens to destroy it.
One gets the impression that the talent behind the scenes of The Greatest Showman might have been studying the work of Baz Luhrmann in developing the big brashness of their production. Bright colours, loud musical numbers, dancing acrobats and spectacle galore. It’s a sharp contrast with the ‘cool’ of La La Land and yet that doesn’t make it a lesser work by any means but it’s worth noting that not everyone will appreciate its camp and brash styling. It’s committed to it and offers little respite but if you like it by the end of the movie you will surely love it.
True to any musical’s success is its song and largely here The Greatest Showman succeeds. They are loud and inspirational, from power ballad to show anthems you get the expected highlights. ‘This is Me’, ‘Rewrite the Stars’ and ‘This is the Greatest Show’ are amongst the standouts to the various foot-tapping tunes.
The cast is exceedingly strong whether it be the charm of Hugh Jackman or Zac Efron or the complicated performances of Keala Settle, Zendaya or Rebecca Ferguson, this is an exceedingly strong cast that embraces the performance that is required of a musical. This is about showiness and all seem committed to it without a hint of irony or cynicism.
Despite a generally entertaining production on second glance The Greatest Showman starts to come apart on some level. There is a sense in which events just happen. Meeting with royalty, romances with opera singers and violent opposition just appears out of nowhere and you get no sense of where they came from. This is often a problem in musicals because plot details are lost in song lyrics that is not the case here as songs themselves seem largely detached from the events of the story too. In fact, every time there is a conflict, let’s sing a nice but irrelevant song. Problem solved. A sense of care in detail regarding the plot and one that informed the music could have saved this glaring lack of cohesion.
This also brings us to one of the other major problems with The Greatest Showman is its very loose relationship with historical fact. Before you suggest well it’s a musical or Hollywood movies always manipulate the facts. Yet even the most cursory examination of the events of P.T. Barnum life shows him better suited to the villain. The characters that are portrayed as weak and manipulative such as Jenny Lind were the heroes of this thing called reality. It so wilfully ignores the fact that you might be best ignoring them for the sake of this fantasy.
In the end for all the entertaining good will the film builds up, you can’t but help feel that you have become one of BT Barnum’s marks in a con. All show and little substance. For all the hints towards race or sexuality or even looking different, it seems to be just that implied. That doesn’t make it subtle because the Greatest Showman isn’t, it just seems afraid to make its audience feel uncomfortable.
‘The Great Showman Review’ Cheat Sheet
Still, despite its glaring flaws, The Greatest Showman is still an entertaining film. Filled with big, brash songs and sets, a solid cast and an endearing message it aims to please. But it’s also wilfully ignorant of the fact, logic and all-around style. It’s a bad film on paper but a decidedly more enjoyable one in the experience.
+ Great casting who are committed to the show.
+ Strong songs that will stick in your head.
+ Bold and loud production style…
-….that some will actually despise.
– A lack of cohesion in the between song and story means the plot has big gaps in logic.
– Wilfully ignorant of the historical events and character its talking about.
-Come across as superficial, more style than substance.