THE GREATEST SHOWMAN Review – Pure Spectacle

Whether Twentieth Century Fox’s new film THE GREATEST SHOWMAN turns out to be a box-office success or not will say a lot about what today’s audiences will be willing to accept in the way of true spectacle.  Released during a time when producers try to fill their movie’s with CGI Superheroes flying around the screen and large-scale robots running amok blowing up buildings, this new Hugh Jackman vehicle opts to bring us back to a time when a wonderfully choreographed musical number was all that was needed to wow an audience.  Forget the laser shooting spaceships and exploding planets, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is more interested in the wonder and awe that modern audiences get mostly on the Broadway stage and/or in the Circus Tent.  While it may come up a little short on character development and plot, it effectively offers enough pure old-fashioned choreography in its set pieces to keep audiences fully entertained.  Continue reading for our full THE GREATEST SHOWMAN movie review.

Loosely inspired (“Loosely” being the key word) by the real-life story of legendary showman P.T. Barnum, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN tells the tale of a dreamer who rose up from poverty to become one of the most famous visionaries of his time.  Developing a circus featuring what he called “oddities,” Barnum created a spectacle that had people coming from all over to see the likes of “the Smallest Man in the World,” “the Dog Faced Boy” and “a Bearded Lady.”  Controversy soon followed, because when you place people who may seem a little out of place into the center stage prejudices come out and Barnum was eventually forced to confront protesters that felt that the show was disrespectful and should be closed down.  Wanting to be taken seriously Barnum eventually found himself chasing down a much respected opera singer named Jenny Lind in order to take charge of her tour across the country, placing a strain on his other personal and business relationships.

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams) share an enchanting dance on a New York rooftop in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is presented as an old-fashioned musical.  Staged in a more fantastical setting, as opposed to the real-world look that more recent films in the genre (LES MISERABLES and LA LA LAND) have chosen to portray, first time director Michael Gracey and choreographer Mathieu Leopold join up with songwriters Ben Pasek and Justin Paul (the Duo who became famous for writing the songs for LA LA LAND) to create a film filled with musical numbers reminiscent of those seen in so many great high end Broadway shows.

But all is not right with the film.  The movie has a running time of one hour and forty-five minutes and feels a tad short.  Its sometimes-rushed feel gives the impression that there might have been a longer cut which delivered more character development that would’ve strengthened the story and characters a little better, but was eventually cut down for the sake of time.  The film opens with a musical number that sets the perfect tone for what the movie is to become.  It encapsulates everything wrong with the film while also emphasizing all that’s right with it.  Centering itself around the growing love between P.T. Barnum and his soon to be wife Charity, this romance could have been a movie within itself.  Instead it’s completely crammed into the opening moments of the story, causing everything to feel rushed and emotionally incomplete.  Now, this shouldn’t work, except for the fact that it’s all told with a solid opening song, well-choreographed movements, great production design and beautifully realized cinematography which will leave audiences more than satisfied with the spectacle of it all by the time the opening number comes to its conclusion.  This analogy of the opening musical number is the exact reaction I had to the film as a whole.  If the filmmakers had opened the story up to a little more character development they may have ended up with a much stronger film overall.  With that said, it’s still hard not to recommend a film whose moments of pure spectacle, such as an incredible musical performance that is choreographed with full circus style aerial acrobatics,  work so strongly on their own.  At the end of every musical number audiences will find themselves wanting to applaud the way they would if they were at an actual circus.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) comes alive with the oddities in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.

Though the scripting of the characters is lacking they all still work to a limited extent.  The performers all endear themselves to the parts they play giving us some charming characterizations which are easy to fall in love with.  Hugh Jackman is cast perfectly in the lead role of P.T. Barnum.  As a performer, Jackman is one of the few triple threats left in the industry.  His ability to sing, dance and act is what makes him the perfect choice to play the central character of P.T. Barnum.  He is able to injects Barnum with some real charm that will endear audiences to the character even though at times he may come off as a little selfish.

It is the story centered around the upper-class Phillip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron, a man who becomes Barnum’s business partner and ends up falling in love with a lower-class trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, performed by Zendaya, that really steals the show.  This is an unoriginal story element that only works because the two actors play off of each other so well.  It’s a relationship that could have been explored deeper within the confines of the script, but is still effective because both Efron and Zendaya really dig deep to effectively find the emotions needed to make the few scenes that they are given work.  They create a real emotional connection that feels both complete and somewhat broken, giving a really effective feel to the conflicted emotion in which they have to deal with as people reject their relationship, allowing for a semi-original take on an often-overused plot device.

Philip (Zac Efron) is entranced by Anne’s (Zendaya) trapeze artistry in Twentieth Century Fox’s THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.

We are also given the beginnings of some interesting side stories involving the “Oddity” characters as well.  Sam Humphreys stands out as he plays Tom Thumb, a little person whose fed up with the way the world looks at him and Keale Settle is powerful as Lettie Lutz (the Bearded Lady) who must learn to feel comfortable and accept who she is no matter how many people rudely stare at her.  These characters, though fascinating when on screen only seem to be present when needed to further the story of Barnum.  Otherwise, they sit mostly in the background when putting them front and center would’ve been more interesting, especially in a film that will be in theaters during a day and age where the idea of acceptance of all people, no matter how different they are, is so important.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

Ultimately, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN feels like a visit to the kind of circus that it wants to celebrate by having the scenes of pure spectacle take center stage.  Thinking too much about it can may take away from your overall reaction.  The character stories are a little too under-explored, making their emotional journeys feel both rushed and incomplete and some audience members may be turned off by this.  But, if you’re able to just sit back and enjoy the visual spectacle of the set pieces, as well as the wonderfully choreographed musical numbers, you just may find yourself walking out of the theater fully satisfied and with a smile on your face, just like I did.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is in theaters now.  For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on instagramtwitter and “like” our facebook page too.

 

About Mark Oguschewitz

Mark Oguschewitz moved to Los Angeles, California after graduating with a film degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Ill. Pursuing a career in the industry, Mark became an award winning freelance editor. He is also known for being the creative consultant for the podcast "Skywalking through Neverland" and co-host of the Podcast "Talking Apes TV." Mark's short film "Gourmet" took the Best Micro-Short honor at the International Horror and Sci-Fi film festival in 2007. His spare time is all about movies. It's not just entertainment, but has become more of a real passion, as he tries to see everything he can. Art house or Blockbuster – It doesn't matter, he loves them all.