TL;DR – They are clearly going for heart-warming, and they mostly succeed, however, the predictable story and character arcs leave a lot to be desired.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – No
So this one sort of snuck up on me at the end of the year. I didn’t really have much of an intention to go see it, but it was cheap Tuesday and I was there, so what the hell, and I am mostly glad I did … maybe. For one, this is a musical, a genre that you don’t see on the big screen that often anymore, so that’s refreshing. It also has a cast that is giving their all to this movie and it shows, but you can’t help having some issues with it as you walked out of the cinemas.
So to set the scene, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grew up as the son of a poor tailor in America and was forced to work every day of his life, especially after his father Philo (Will Swenson), died when P.T. was still very young. But he worked and worked, until he was able to marry Charity (Michelle Williams) the daughter of one of his father’s rich clients which was quite the scandal. They lived a quiet life until one day P.T. is let go from his job because all the trading ships were sunk in the South China Sea, and it is here where he has the inspiration to found the Barnum’s American Museum, which flopped until his daughters Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely) gives him the idea that would change his life, get rid of the dead things and make the museum come alive. Thus Barnum’s Circus is born, where people with oddities like Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) a bearded lady, Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey) a dwarf performer called General Tom Thumb and many more can come to perform. The Circus was a success, but it also led to some big problems for P.T., his family and the performers.
Ok, before we go on I do need to talk about the elephant in the room, no not the real (well visually created one) in the movie, the metaphorical one. So much like GLOW (see review) from earlier in the year, The Greatest Showman is asking the question ‘is what P.T. is doing empowering or exploiting the performers?’ Now in the film, it wants to come down on the side of empowering but there is a lot of debate as to if that is historically accurate or heading into uncomfortable historical revisionist territory. I don’t have enough knowledge on the subject to know one way or another, but I did want to flag it. Also, the film will quite often use makeup/ visual effects to represent real people that had lived with these physical issues, and I’m going to leave that up to you to decide if that is problematic or not.
These issues aside, there was quite a lot about The Greatest Showman that I really did like. They really did know how to hit the emotional buttons when they wanted. For example, there is a scene right at the start of the film where a young P.T. (Ellis Rubin) is slapped by Charity’s father Benjamin (Fredric Lehne) in front of everyone. It has been a while since I have heard almost the entire cinema gasp in unison. On the whole, I found the songs really enjoyable, with great choreography, and with some clever editing going on, which you would hope given how many editors this film had. Also, I liked most of the acting, indeed it was good to see Zac Efron playoff type, I mean he does not even get his top off in the film, though that may not be a positive change for some.
However, on the story front, it was all really predictable, yes I know it is history, but I didn’t know the events that the film depicted but even I could see how it was going to end well before the film hit its halfway point. While I did like the songs, I really feel that they underutilized Hugh Jackman, he has a really good singing voice, as we have seen time and time again on Broadway, but here it feels like they are always holding him back, forcing him to be more reserved. There was a lot of digital visual effects used throughout the film, and sometimes they felt appropriate, like for a lot of the shots with large animals, other times it hit this really uncanny valley look, that was really distracting.
In the end, do we recommend The Greatest Showman, sort of, well maybe. Look it is a film that as long as you don’t explore past the shiny well-performed surface, you will probably enjoy it. However, if for even a moment you start thinking through the film and its implications, well that is the moment the house of cards will start to tumble.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Greatest Showman
Directed by – Michael Gracey
Story by – Jenny Bicks
Screenplay by – Jenny Bicks & Bill Condon
Based on – The life of P. T. Barnum
Music and Songs by – John Debney, John Trapanese, Justin Paul & Benj Pasek
Cinematography by – Seamus McGarvey
Edited by – Tom Cross, Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll & Spencer Susser
Starring – Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Paul Sparks, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eric Anderson, Daniel Everidge, Ellis Rubin, Shannon Holtzapffel, Gayle Rankin, Will Swenson, Fredric Lehne & Kathryn Meisle
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 6; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG