Running Time: 2 hours 19 minutes
Director: Michael Gracey
On paper, The Greatest Showman should be an incredible film. The cast of Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson- all actors with excellent track records, the premise of the invention of Circus- sounds amazing. Throw in the fact that it’s a musical (Troy Bolton and Jean Val Jean across from each other in a musical? Yes please!) and I was sold.
Unfortunately, all that potential is just not realised in The Greatest Showman. The film itself is well structured but poorly written at times- there is a scene set at a party, where P.T Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Philip (Zac Efron) meet for the first time which nearly had me throwing my popcorn at the screen. At this point, Barnum’s circus is a success with the lower classes- but has not reached his lofty ambitions of the upper class. Philip is the expert on how to make show business appeal to the wealthier populace, and Barnum desperately needs someone like him involved in the Circus.
Not knowing who Philip is, Barnum looks across the room and immediately notices him (for absolutely no reason) and asks his wife (very conveniently) ‘Who is that man?’. This is the definition of sloppy screenwriting- and The Greatest Showman is littered with instances like this.
Another bone I have to pick with The Greatest Showman is the continued pretence that this is a film about acceptance, and finding your place in society. On the surface, this is what the film is totally about. We see characters that have been rejected from society beginning to feel proud of who they are and what they can do. But the film isn’t about their journeys- it is about P.T Barnum, who frankly, is a dislikable character.
After his failed attempt at a taxidermy museum, Barnum notices a dwarf in a waiting room at the bank, and the horrified curiosity of the others in the room as they watched him. A lightbulb moment- why not capitalise on this morbid curiousity?
Barnum then begins his recruitment spree, convincing the dwarf (Sam Humphrey) and bearded lady (Keala Settle) among other characters, to join his show.
The first half of the film successfully preaches the importance of acceptance and friendship. It is feel good and joyous- we see these character come out of their shells and begin to love themselves. But then comes the second act, and Barnum’s character assassination. He finds a way to appeal to the upper class- Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) the famous opera singer. He drops the Circus like a hot potato and pursues Jenny’s tour, determined to be respected and admired by the wealthy.
This could have been spun better. Barnum could realise that the life of the rich isn’t actually all that, that the friendships he has made are more important, and return to the Circus. Instead, he is suddenly embarrassed by this association. He gives the Circus cast the standing area to watch Jenny’s show. He locks them out of the after party. He leaves the show to Philip and leaves with Jenny.
When he does eventually return it is too little too late. He only comes back because he has nothing else left. It’s a consolation prize, and he has to make the most of it. Feel good factor? Zero.
However, my biggest gripe with The Greatest Showman is the one thing that could have actually saved the film. The music.
I am a huge fan of musicals, from Hairspray to La La Land to The Sound Of Music. And what makes these films so unique, so memorable? They have their own sounds. Granted, they might be cheesy at times, but they will leave you humming for days after watching. The music in The Greatest Showman was just bad. It sounds like something the latest X Factor winner might release in an attempt to make Christmas Number One- or the newest single from the shiniest new manufactured boy band. Forgive me for being a music snob here, but the soundtrack is lazy and unoriginal . Hugh Jackman has an incredible voice, but here it sounds so auto tuned it is barely recognisable.
In fact, and as much as I don’t want to admit it- Jackman and Williams are almost unrecognisable in their performances. Two of our best current actors in Hollywood- they over-act their parts to the point it becomes cringeworthy.
Overall, The Greatest Showman is a disappointing film that definitely doesn’t live up to the hype. It’s okay- if you want something light and easy to watch, or to put on for the kids. Just don’t go into it expecting anything else.