The Greatest Showman Review: Messy, but a Good Film Exists Somewhere in There
The Greatest Showman hands down has one of the best soundtracks of the year. No matter how you feel about the film itself when you see it, you will be humming the songs for days afterward. Right from the start of the film you can tell that first-time director Michael Gracey is going for a stylized musical in the same vein as a Moulin Rouge or Chicago. Sadly, it does not reach those heights.
The film is, of course, a biopic of P.T. Barnum, whose circus that ran for almost a century closed earlier this year. Largely focusing on the origins of the circus as an oddity-filled sideshow, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is shown to be the ultimate showman and filled with ego. Craving approval from the societal elite, he enlists socialite and playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to help him build credibility. He ends up losing his way while producing a tour for English opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). All is right in the end, as he realizes that his wife (Michelle Williams) and family are what really matters instead of fame and fortune.
Jackman really is a marvel as Barnum. That is to be expected, however — he is a natural at this kind of role. One of the preeminent stage performers in the world, in some ways he might be a better Barnum than the man himself. Talented and charismatic as he is, however, The Greatest Showman suffers from putting too much focus on the man himself when there is a better story being told.
That story would be between Carlyle and trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, played by Zendaya. Both of them are electric on screen, and whenever they share it together, the film itself comes to life. As I watched this one, I found myself wishing that the film was about these two and that Barnum entered and exited the story as needed. The best scene in the film is a wonderful trapeze act between the two as they sing the standout song ‘Rewrite The Stars’. In that scene alone, you are more captivated than any other time before or after.
Again, that is no fault of the songs, however. The music is by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, fresh off their Academy Award for last year’s La La Land. Every song soars, and while they don’t really fit in with the setting of the circus, they are the kind of anthems you can pump your fist to. This should be a huge hit for holiday gift-giving.
But I suppose that’s the problem: The Greatest Showman‘s scenes feel like they are just biding time until the next musical number. They know that is where the bread is buttered. They also waste Williams; she is not really given much to do here as the put-upon wife. I feel like if they had attacked this from other characters’ points of view instead, it would have been much more interesting. In the end, it all just feels like a trip to the show itself — everyone leaves with a smile on their face, but ultimately only need to see it once.
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