The Greatest Showman Review
Sometimes, a musical comes along that is funny, inventive, and musically organic, incorporating its songs into its story. The Greatest Showman is not one of those musicals. As Hugh Jackman plays P.T. Barnum during his adulthood, the film follows similar conventions as Moana in how it tries to give the film a grand scope of the main character’s childhood leading into the story, but it ultimately makes the film feel more bloated than it needs to be; the rest of the plot meshes poorly with the song and dance numbers and the factual life of its main protagonist, Phineas Barnum.
The film begins with a somewhat startling opening as Hugh Jackman, in full circus getup (as if to tell the audience that the filmmakers know the movie won’t be good and are showing off early so as to allow people to leave before the trauma sets in) dances along to the main song that is repeated throughout the film. The film’s collapse all starts as the film explores Barnum’s childhood, getting almost every detail wrong by changing his occupation from lazy farmhand to tailor’s son for a rich estate. The entirety of this introduction seems far too innocent and carefree for the audience to truly become invested in either the bland pop songs or the run of the mill characters.
Despite these flaws, the film still looks beautiful at times, though these glimpses of beauty are few and far between, as the film jumps from more personal scenes that are lit with a flat and uninteresting look, to glamorous scenes with Zac Efron as Carlyle, Barnum’s associate, dancing with Zendaya as Anne Wheeler in their circus tent. While most scenes have a pleasing, glossy look to them, there are few lasting statements or moments of true beauty here besides a veneer of palatable aesthetic mediocrity. Seamus McGarvey unfortunately seems to phone it in as cinematographer, providing pleasant but uninteresting visuals that do not redeem the film.
When one applies similarly stringent criteria to the music in this film, it does not hold up either. While the songs are somewhat catchy, they are also irritating; giving off a hollow pop sound that does not work in congruence with the time period in which the film takes place—a good example of this used to a film’s advantage is in the recent Les Miserable remake. This strange pairing rears its ugly head most when Jenny Lind, played by Rebecca Ferguson, uses her ‘opera skills’ from England to wow American audiences by, unsurprisingly, singing a very Adelle inspired grandiose pop ballad. This annoyance is further exaggerated by the fact that the pop songs that Barnum’s freaks sing are very bland self-acceptance songs that have been dominating the radio for years now.
With all of this in mind, it is a mystery why Hugh Jackman or Zac Efron decided to accept their respective roles in the film. However, one can theorize that despite the film’s appalling inoffensiveness they both must have known that such a product would be accepted by fawning music lovers everywhere in spite of the harsh reviews that have been surfacing since the film’s release. To those who do not like musicals, or do not like bad films, avoid The Greatest Showman at all costs; while it is not awful, it is bland in the worst sense and brings nothing new to the table as far as musical numbers, creative storytelling, and visuals are concerned.