The musical is back! As in proper, original musicals! Yes, musicals have stayed around but they have either been adaptations of West End musicals or jukebox musicals, where they use already existing pop songs and cram them into a story which doesn’t quite fit. But thanks to both the critical and commercial success of La La Land, Hollywood has realized that we do still have an appetite for people bursting out into song for no apparent reason. But for a trend to continue, the films jumping onto them have to be of some quality. Is The Greatest Showman then of good enough quality to keep this bandwagon rolling?
After P.T Barnum (Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables) is made redundant, he aims to make a name for himself by devising a show with oddities and things people can’t see anywhere else. However, because of the different sort of people in his show, protesters soon try and stop the circus and kick them all out of town.
The Greatest Showman is a weird film and we’ll talk about that during the review because you’ll find you can’t compliment this movie too much before you end up criticising it. Take the music for instance. It is the most part very good. You have a nice mixture of song types, you have your upbeat dance numbers, your love songs, your ballads and the one big inspirational song that’s going to do gangbusters on the trailer. While there is definitely a scale, The Greatest Showman and This Is Me are the definite highlights, none of them are complete duds and all are enjoyable. There’s only one poor singer as well, and he’s only in the film for five minutes at the start so it’s easily forgotten. But then the songs do have some faults, mostly the fact they are overproduced. The film is going more for bombast than naturalism so it’s slightly forgivable, but the songs feel like they’ve been in the studio for too long and that both the voices and instruments have been altered too much by a man with a computer.
The pacing of the songs can be off sometimes as well. For the most part, it’s fine and nothing is too noticeable. A big song number happens, then the film calms down and progresses somewhat before we get to the next big number. Then just before the end of the second third, it starts to get a bit cluttered. Song after song happens and it becomes a bit exhausting, especially as these songs are big emotional ones which completely change the lives of many of the main characters. Perhaps something was cut out in between some of these songs, but the pacing is definitely off and it lessens the impact of what happens.
This trend of not being able to say too much nice without having to criticise continues with the visuals. For most of the movie, it’s expertly shot. At times, it is absolutely fantastic and you can see that life for the poster creators was very easy with some of shots in this film. The actual shows themselves are a visual treat with all the dancing being expertly choreographed, though sometimes a bit too hyperactive, and the right shots being picked every time to bring all the energy out of the screen and into the cinema auditorium. But then there’s the CGI, which at times is quite charming. But then at other times it makes The Lawnmower Man seem realistic. It’s quite bizarre how the movie switches from looking beautiful to pig ugly, but it manages it.
I can say that all the performances in The Greatest Showman are great though without exception. Hugh Jackman is always really charming when given the chance and he’s brilliant as this purveyor of magic that Barnum is cast is. Don’t worry, we’ll address that elephant in the room later. Zac Efron (High School Musical 3: Senior Year) also has a return to form as a playwright whose is tempted by Barnum to try something different and actually put a smile on people’s faces. While there are a number of other big names I could praise, I do want to spend some time telling you how amazing Keale Settle (Ricki and the Flash) is as bearded lady Lettie. She is a powerful voice anytime she is on screen and is the secret star of the whole thing.
Now let’s get to that elephant in the room and no not the one that is dancing in the circus at the very end of the movie. In this movie, Barnum is portrayed as a Walt Disney of sorts. He just wants to make people smile and brings together a lot of social rejects to make a show. And even though the stuffy snobs and critics don’t like it, regular people do and that’s what matters in the end. Basically, despite having some flaws such as trying just a bit too hard, Barnum is an inspirational figure. Yet this is a story based on real life, and Barnum was a real person who certainly was not inspiring. In reality, he exploited his performers and even did horrifying things to them to make sure the act he made for them was more real. There are some really nasty stories about Barnum that the movie glosses over that should be read as a companion to the movie that wants to treat him as a hero.
Even if you the exclude the complete whitewashing of PT Barnum’s history, The Greatest Showman is still a flawed movie. Every time you really get into the movie and start enjoying it, one of the problems such as the overproduction of the songs, the at times overly hyperactive choreography or the visuals which are a rollercoaster of quality, emerge and take you right out of it. I can’t completely dismiss the film, it does indeed put a smile on your face and the songs despite their production are still toe-tappingly catchy, but The Greatest Showman could have been a lot better.