What happened here? I wanted to like this movie—a musical centered around the life of the great P.T. Barnum . . . featuring the lyricists for La La Land. Sign me up! What we got, though, was a superficial biopic-musical that does everything it can to skip past the more interesting and controversial aspects of Barnum’s life. If you’re just looking for a feelgood family flick, or are a big fan of Hugh Jackman, there may be enough here for you to have fun. But, if you’re looking for anything more than that, you’re gonna have to keep on looking, which is a shame.
There’s a surprisingly good allegory at the start of this film between “what you’re hoping for” and “what you get” in this movie. Right off the bat, we’re greeted with the classic 20th Century Fox title card, like the one that preceded their films from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. It’s accompanied by the classic theme as well. But as soon as that’s done we’re thrust into the modern 21st Century Fox title card with a very current and hip pop beat underneath it that leads into a tease of one of the big musical numbers. That ended up being the perfect summary of this film: I wanted a (at least somewhat) in-depth investigation of the life of Barnum that really gets the nostalgia going, but all we get is a flat and generic musical that makes Barnum out to be a hero and vilifies all who found what he was doing to be . . . less than commendable.
As for the music, (you know, the most important part of a musical) it’s . . . okay. The big single, “This Is Me,” hits all the right notes, says all the right things, swells at the right moments and will inevitably be nominated for an Oscar, but the rest of the music is really lacking in my book. It’s just generic pop music, which feels very out of place here.
Rebecca Ferguson plays the great opera singer Jenny Lind. She has a big solo number in the middle of the film. What kind of song do you think that’s going to be? If you thought “Celine Dion ripoff,” then this film may be perfect for you! I almost burst into laughter when Jenny Lind started singing this song that is nothing like anything an opera singer would sing.
Hugh Jackman is great as P.T. Barnum. This role is right in his wheelhouse, and he is as charming and charismatic as ever. Zac Efron and Zendaya are pretty good too, and their duet has easily the best choreography of the entire film. But the final big dance number is a clusterbomb of visuals. We get this big, long take where the camera is flying everywhere and people are dancing and animals are jumping around and it’s just such a visual overload that you just don’t care about what’s going on.
Speaking of animals, though, hey! Remember when they were introduced to the circus? If you watch this movie then neither will you, because they will just randomly be introduced in the final scene with no real rhyme or explanation. I guess one day Barnum woke up and said, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” and then they were a thing. This film turns Barnum into an undisputed hero, and vilifies everyone who took issue with what he was doing. Barnum was a lot more complicated than that, but The Greatest Showman doesn’t take the time to investigate it. The protesters are all just people who hate the fact that Barnum was employing unique individuals, and the critic, played by Paul Sparks, is just a whiny old man who hates fun. The unique individuals are nothing more than a sideshow in this film, which speeds past the matter of how these individuals come to grips with making money to have people laugh at them.
The Greatest Showman is the directorial debut of Michael Gracey, and boy, do I hope he can recover from it.
I love me a good musical and will make a point to see as many of them as I can when they hit theaters, but I have no intention of watching this one again anytime soon. Go and give The Shape of Water some love, or just see Star Wars again.