Musicals are a bit of a rarity these days, which makes grand productions like The Greatest Showman a bit more special. While its sure to be divisive for some, I had a surprisingly good time with this earnest showstopper.
The Greatest Showman is the kind of true story of P.T. Barnum, a down on his luck man dreaming of a grand life. He comes up the idea to put on a show full of unique people with remarkable talents, which leads to the advent of a popular, yet controversial show.
Despite its period setting, The Greatest Showman is a modern musical, with its punchy setpieces being reminiscent of today’s popular genres. Admittedly, I was hesitant about that going into the film, but the music for me worked. La La Land song writers Justin Paul and Benj Pasek craft some catchy and endearing numbers, and while all of them aren’t perfect, most are imbued with whimsy and charm.
Enhancing these numbers even more is first-time director Michael Gracey, who looks to compliment the grand numbers with some visual spectacle. The impeccable choreography and visuals of the setpieces are impactful, creating a fun spectacle without being too overbearing. I also credit Gracey for capturing the period setting well, and using stylistic touches such as slow-motion in a sparingly, but effective way.
Hugh Jackman is a pro when it comes to musicals, making him the perfect choice to bring P.T. Barnum to life. He’s charisma is endless and he always commands the stage when he’s performing. He embraces Barnum’s wide-eye ambition perfectly while still showing shadings of Barnum’s flaws. Zac Efron and Zendaya are lovely together, with both young actors giving earnest performances as well. Michelle Williams is quite good as she always is.
The Greatest Showman’s most impressive circus act is its ability to win audiences over with a wonderfully warm heart. I found myself swept into Barnum’s quest to make something of himself, but I also credit writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon for adding some complexity to that theme. It’s other core theme of “being yourself” is certainly a cliche, but its done so with such pizzaz and charm that I didn’t really mind.
However, this script has a lot of problems. Much of the events that happen in the film feel rather half-baked, as Gracey’s fast pace goes from moment to moment with a frenetic pace. While this makes the experience go by, a lot of what happens feels dramatically rushed. Its crazy to see such big conflicts be solved within ten minutes, making for a lot of jarring moments.
I also wish the film did more with its supporting cast. All of the actors bringing to life the unique performers of Barnum’s circus do a great job, which makes it a shame that the script does very little of interest with them. They are so blindly devoted to Barnum and his cause that the movie plays down who they are as individuals. I wish these characters could have had some depth or more authentic moments.
The Greatest Showman is a crowd-pleaser, and while it does so to a detriment to its real-life drama, I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed the film. It whisked me into whimsical world, proving some fun toe-tapping moments as well as some genuine feel-good moments. Families looking for a Christmas, try this instead of the cliched Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.