“The Greatest Showman” stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya. Released on December 20, 2017, the film is about a showman who started a circus filled with performers with bizarre differences.
The film is directed by Michael Gracey, who is known for directing commercials and serving as a visual effects artist. The next film I’ll be reviewing is something that offers a magical experience besides film: the circus. What’s the catch? It is deemed as a musical. The holiday season is no stranger to live-action movie musicals, of course, with Les Miserables and last year’s La La Land being the main examples. While I do enjoy the animated musicals that Disney created, the live-action ones have been known for impressing me with their glorious choreography and some toe-tapping songs. Will this one be the latest to fit into that list?
The movie is inspired by a true story that shows how the Barnum & Bailey Circus came to be. Not only that, but it also showcases the life of its founder, P. T. Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman), in a more family-friendly matter. With the film’s PG rating, the final result could go in two different ways. It can be a dazzling and heart-felt musical event with timeless messages or it can be a musical event that’s heavy on the dazzle and very light on the storytelling. For me, in this case, it lands somewhere towards the middle, with the needle heading slightly towards the latter. However, in terms of its concept, the film did a very nice job at expressing the true purpose of the circus: celebrating humanity. Hugh Jackman delivered a very likable performance as Barnum as well as Efron and Williams as Phillip Carlyle and Charity Barnum, respectively. After starring in a few R-rated comedies, it’s nice to see Efron get into some family-friendly fare, especially a movie musical. Zendaya was also pretty good as Anne Wheeler, one of the acrobats in Barnum’s circus as well as the obvious love interest of Phillip. The musical aspect in the film might have the possibility of turning off those who wanted a more serious and in-depth look at Barnum and his circus, but for those who like the aspect in general (including yours truly), it’s a remarkable experience from start to finish. The songs were written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were mostly known for writing the songs for La La Land. As its own, the soundtrack provided plenty of catchy songs and the choreography from the cast was as eye-opening as the circus performers themselves. In case you’re wondering, the entire cast sang their own songs, except for Rebecca Ferguson, whose character’s singing voice was provided by Loren Allred. It would be nice to hear Ferguson sing herself, but that’s just me. The visual style also helped with the experience by expressing its flashy and vibrant set pieces and costumes, but at some points, it can get in the way of its storytelling. The film’s central messages about respecting people’s differences and the importance of family over fame were nicely displayed, but the story itself fell short of being a spectacular performance. There were moments that had the opportunity to provide some sort of emotional depth to the characters and its themes, but failed to take advantage of it. “Wonder” had a similar theme that dealt with people’s differences and the story revolved around it was not afraid to express its message through realism and heart. The story in “Greatest Showman” has heart, but the realism needs some more tuning.
Overall, “The Greatest Showman” is a visually pleasing act that respects the nature of the circus and the man behind it. The story wasn’t as powerful as the social commentaries it provided and the musical aspect may turn away those who aren’t into the sub-genre to begin with. Despite these flaws, it’s a solid take on the circus’ early days thanks to its talented cast, some visual appeal, and its entertaining musical numbers. Michael Gracey’s first attempt as a director was an acceptable attempt at best, but I can tell that there’s always room for improvement. If you like movie musicals or if you’re familiar with the circus in general, it’s worth a watch. Just don’t expect it to be an award-winning show.