Director: Michael Gracey
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron & Zendaya
Review Authors: Shaun
Truthfully I don’t know why the story of P.T. Barnum, the founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, had to be a musical. I’m not sure what made somebody at the studio look at this story and decide that it had to be told as a family film through song and dance. Funny enough, it actually does work for the story and the musical numbers ended up being the best part of the film. Hugh Jackman isn’t new to the world of musicals and he does great work here, as does much of the cast. What didn’t work for me, though, was the story and the tone, the way the characters were presented in a washed-out way, which made The Greatest Showman a much less remarkable film than I would have hoped.
The movie tries too hard to pander to families. I have nothing against movies that the whole family can see together, and The Greatest Showman works fine as a PG-rated musical, but I also know that family films don’t have to gloss over more mature topics. Studios like Pixar, who make animated movies for children, understand that stories can have complex and mature themes while also being entertaining for the younger viewers. This movie deals with quite a few subjects that could be very powerful and thought-provoking, but they could have been presented in a more real way. By glossing over these parts of the story and not exploring them deeper, the film loses much of the depth it could have had and is much light-hearted than the real story it’s based on.
Biopics like this obviously have to alter certain events stretch and compress time, switch plot points around, exaggerate or remove some parts—but there’s so much potential for complex drama in the life of P.T. Barnum that isn’t explored here. It’s all a bit too perfect, with any holes the character digging himself into being resolved with a quick musical number. He’s presented as a perfect role model with very few character flaws or traits that make him interesting besides his ambition.
Hugh Jackman does manage to salvage the role, though, with his charisma and his knack for singing and dancing. Zac Efron is the other standout, and the two play wonderfully off of each other. They have a great number together in a bar when they’re beginning their partnership, and it was those more personal songs between just a few characters that I enjoyed the most.
The extravagance of the opening and the final numbers and a few of the ones in between are what give the film its flair that will likely appeal to a wide audience. The music is given a modern spin, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I think most people will enjoy themselves and remember the spectacle over the story. At times the film is very rushed, and my biggest problem with the story is its lack of the complexity that could have been there. The characters do have charm, though, and this is a visually magnificent film, so I suppose if that’s all you’re looking for, you can sit back and have a perfectly enjoyable time with The Greatest Showman.
Rating: 2 / 5 musical numbers