Review: The Greatest Showman

| January 5, 2018 | Comments (1)

DIR: Michael Gracey  WRI: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon  PRO: Peter Chernin, Laurence Mark, Jenno Topping  DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Tom Cross
Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll, Spencer Susser • MUS: John Debney, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Joseph Trapanese • DES: Nathan Crowley • CAST: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson

 

It’s bad enough when a film gets too heavy-handed with its message but even worse when it then proceeds to not uphold the very message it preached. Such is The Greatest Showman. The film talks a talk, but it doesn’t walk the walk. Well, if the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has taught generations of children anything, it’s that physical oddities and quirks are to be celebrated – but only if they can be exploited for a profit. Evidently, director Michael Gracey is a fan of this sentiment.

Roughly (very roughly) based on the life of show business entrepreneur P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and the founding of the famous Barnum & Bailey Circus, the film is a kaleidoscope of colour and song that looks almost impressive enough to distract from its muddled plot and bad writing. Risking all he has to pursue the dream he and his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) have harboured since childhood, Barnum seeks to create the greatest show on Earth. Reaching out to those who have been shunned by society for their colour, their disabilities and just their general unconventional-ness, Barnum brings together a rag-tag group of performers to entertain and delight the very public that had always disregarded them – and all for the low, low cost of an admission ticket!

Jackman is, of course, as charming as ever as the titular showman and, with his musical theatre credentials, clearly revels in a role that allows him to showcase all of his talents. Other cast members fare equally well, in particular Zendaya who brings an intensity to the role of trapeze artist Anne Wheeler that rings sincere even if it is sometimes out of place alongside her co-stars fluffier performances. This is not a film that lacks talent, but rather coherence in both narrative structure and theme. One of the films biggest problems is its paradoxical treatment of its ‘freak’ characters. Despite every set piece and musical number regurgitating the films theme of self-empowerment, the circus performers are only ever used as background props for the films traditionally beautiful and able-bodied characters. We never learn anything about their personalities or back stories in significant detail and so can only identify them by their physical characteristics; the giant man, the conjoined twins, the dog-boy, the bearded lady etc. By reducing these characters to the titles slapped on them by a world that ostracizes rather than embraces those who are different, the film is reaffirming the very ideology it claims to reject. The lack of self-awareness is apparent as to almost be humorous.

The film also suffers from issues with pacing – racing forward in the beginning then slowing to an almost tedious drip by the end. Years pass in the blink of an eye, the circus performs one successful show then suddenly Barnum is debt-free and can purchase an opulent mansion. It’s a bit jarring to say the least. In his eagerness to provide the audience with a good time, director Gracey forgoes all build-up for constant pay-off, which ultimately feels undeserved and means the films quieter moments lack an emotional punch. To give the film some credit, it does feature some visually fantastic sequences and Gracey does provide some flair with the camera work. But by far the oddest choice made for the film, giving that it is trying to emulate the Hollywood studio musicals of old, is the musical direction. The soundtrack consists entirely of pop anthems, the B-side kind and are unsurprisingly unmemorable.

Overall, The Greatest Showman is a film that aims no higher than pure unadulterated entertainment and doesn’t even really succeed at that. It may provide just enough spectacle to prove a pleasant distraction during the holiday period, but a warning in advance – leave the brain behind for this one.

Ellen Murray

PG (See IFCO for details)

104 minutes
The Greatest Showman is released 26th December 2017

The Greatest Showman – Official Website

 

 

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  1. Christina says:

    Granted, this movie is not historically accurate, and I knew very little about P.T. Barnum before viewing this film. However, I’m going so see this film for a 3rd time tomorrow, because I was truly a spectacle from beginning to end.

    The pacing was great. Didn’t have a dull moment, unlike La La Land. I didn’t need to see a hundred sold out shows to know he made it big and was about to buy a mansion. It had excellent transitions and the music effortlessly flowed through the scenes.

    To say that characters like Lettie and Sam didn’t have personalities is intellectually dishonest. When Lettie is first shown, she is ashamed and shy and she becomes proud and boisterous warrior who literally led her crew to battle. Sam is bold and holds nothing back when it comes to his humor. The other characters are not main characters, but you can still gather things about them, but they don’t require major backstories or anything.

    Barnum was a complex man in the movie who you wanted to root for, but he made terribly damning decisions. He was a man encouraging others to embrace themselves, living vicariously through their bravery and reaping the benefits while he lived like a coward. There are a lot more layers than critics are giving this credit for.

    Barnum is so excited to introduce Jenny Lynn to his in-laws to display how high he had risen, and he didn’t even think to introduce them to their grandchildren. The Howletts were thrilled for a half second when they saw them. Barnum had already achieved something that would have gained the adoration from the people that scorned him, but he instead used Jenny to embarrass his father-in-law, leading to the line (excuse me this isn’t exact) “All that success and still just a tailor’s boy”. This further exposes the issues with Barnum, and it only gets worse when he won’t let Lettie and the others in the room for a drink.

    But in a refreshing turn of events, they don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They go on to sing “This is Me” and incredibly empowering song, and the go on to do their work. Why? Because there is a tremendous amount of dignity that comes with being able to work.

    Before the amazing “From Now On” performance, Lettie tells Hugh that they don’t know if he was using them or not, but basically, they know who they are and they aren’t ready to go back in the shadows.

    He is moved by these people and realizes the error of his ways and after he rebuilds it all, so Lettie and the others can regain their home and their living, he gives up the spotlight and the adoration of the crowd to simply be a family man. This was his original dream that he sang about in “Million Dreams” before he was crippled by his insecurities and betrayed it.

    And on top of it being a great story, the cinematography was incredible, the choreography was mind-blowing, and every song on the soundtrack was amazing. This was truly special film that inspired everyone in the theater I was at, on both occasions of viewing it. I’m going to take more people to see it tomorrow.

    It is a sensational film.

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