Review: The Greatest Showman

Greatest Showman poster

Long before the local cinematheque opened, the masses were entertained by the circus, a live, extravagant spectacle of the most talented and ostentatious individuals. So, if there were to be a biopic about the man who founded the circus, it would only make sense for his story to be told in an equally outrageous manner.

In the early 19th century, Phineas Taylor Barnum (Hugh Jackman) was only a shadow of the person he would become, living in a rundown part of New York City with his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea) and their two daughters. Though he struggles to hold a job, a slacker he is not, for Barnum is a clever man with many forward-thinking ideas. One day, after losing yet another job, Barnum decides to put those ideas to use by purchasing a local museum.

To attract visitors to his new museum – which, on acquisition, is filled with wax figures and stuffed animals – Barnum is hoping to add more lifelike curiosities to the exhibition. He places leaflets in and around New York asking for people of special talents and physical abnormalities to join his museum, and within days, all manner of individuals are looking to be part, including a short-statured man named Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey) and a bearded lady by the name of Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle).

While Barnum has no difficulty drawing crowds to his museum, he struggles to win over the high-brow, theatre-going society, a group personified by New York Herald journalist James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks). In an effort to appease Bennett and his cohorts, Barnum seeks out theatre producer Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) who, after some deliberation, decides to partner with Barnum, and it isn’t long after that they snare their first drawcard: opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).

Were it not for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, it’s doubtful that The Greatest Showman would have been produced in its final form. To the untrained eye, it seems that the latter film is trying to emulate the old-school vibes of the former, even going as far as to hire the same lyricists – Ben Pasek and Justin Paul. Yet The Greatest Showman is no carbon-copy of the Academy Award-winning musical, for it houses a level of flamboyance and vibrancy not seen since the genre’s heyday.

In fact, so flamboyant is The Greatest Showman that, at times, the film struggles to keep up with itself. A very rushed first act sees exposition being delivered at breakneck pace, all while the characters sing an upbeat number that barely represents what is happening on-screen. Later, most of the cast and stunt team perform together, dancing, flipping and swinging in a series of well-choreographed, but otherwise confusing sequences.

That’s not to say that The Greatest Showman is unenjoyable – if anything, the film’s colourful, energetic nature is what makes it so spellbinding. When watching the movie, one doesn’t feel like they’re sitting in a cinema; they feel like they’re experiencing a Tony-worthy performance on Broadway. Indeed, The Greatest Showman seems like it would work better as a stage-show, what with all the singing and extravagant costumes, which is all the more reason to see it.

Also making The Greatest Showman worth seeing is the acting. Hugh Jackman, who is returning to his musical roots, is a perfect lead as the charismatic Barnum; Zac Efron’s career is also coming full-circle, with the High School Musical-alum duetting alongside Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Zendaya. Yet for this author, the stand-out actor is Keala Settle, who gets to showcase her amazing vocals with the equally-powerful ballad “This is Me” – a song worth the price of admission alone.

Though it isn’t a perfect story, The Greatest Showman is an exceptional musical which proves the genre is far from dead. With its great song-writing, solid cast, and a tone perfectly suited to the world of P.T. Barnum, only the coldest of individuals could find the film a bore.

3.5 stars

3 thoughts on “Review: The Greatest Showman

  1. Great review. I haven’t got around to seeing this one yet, but Hugh Jackman is usually a safe bet. I recently did an article looking at the nicest guys in Hollywood and after reading about his personality, I just had to pop him in! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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