The Greatest Showman: A Millennial’s Movie Review

Updated on January 7, 2018
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Nick is a fresh university graduate with a deep interest in film and cinema, dreaming of one day being a successful film pundit.

Le Freak, c'est Chic

The Greatest Showman is a musical/biopic directed by Michael Gracey, starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron and Zendaya. The film takes place in the mid-19th century, and is inspired by the true story of P.T. Barnum (Jackman), a family man and businessman who recruits a group of unique individuals and ends up starting what many consider the most famous circus company of all time. Along the way, Barnum’s Circus struggles with the judgemental and abusive views of the townsfolk, while Barnum himself stumbles upon a temptation that speaks to the dark side of his desire.

A passion project of Hugh Jackman, the film’s seven-year development period and its star-studded cast indicate that the production team is serious about making a splash during the 2017/18 awards season. At a time when award-winning musicals are back in industry spotlights, the film’s hype also benefits from a screenplay co-written by Oscar-winner Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast, Chicago). The only unknown in this equation is director Michael Gracey, who has never directed a feature-length film. One can only hope that the rest of the team’s talents can make up for Gracey’s apparent inexperience. Is this the greatest show 2017 has to offer, or has the spirit of P.T. Barnum hoodwinked us yet again?

Initial Thoughts

The Greatest Showman is a spectacle of a film, never running short of hair-raising moments bestowed upon it by its fantastic musical numbers. Vibrant and imagination-grabbing, the songs are supported by equally energetic choreography as well as yet another incredible lead performance by Hugh Jackman. This all makes up for the disappointing lack of story depth one might expect from a film featuring ‘freaks’ living under constant discrimination. But at the end of the day, families and moviegoers of all ages will find something they can enjoy from this film, a product of classic, quality Hollywood entertainment.

The Noblest Act

2017 was a brilliant year of movies for Hugh Jackman. Having starred in one of the best comic-book movies of all time, the Australian appears to be at the top of his game once again, having to dance, sing and act. He effortlessly plays the role of a man who appears to be a passionate circus ringmaster, but struggles with a completely different desire as a result of his past. Michelle Williams plays the wife of P.T. Barnum, and brings a classy gravitas to the role, something only achievable by an actress of her calibre. Zac Efron and Zendaya also feature as members of the circus family, and their on-screen chemistry and musical numbers were simply on-point. And to cap it all off, relative unknown Keala Settle brought down the house with an electrifying standout number, one of several highlights in the film.

But it’s all about the music. Tell me that the songs were written by La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and I’d say I wouldn’t be surprised. Coco has some stiff competition for the award of Best Original Song at the 2018 Oscars, because The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack is its biggest strength, often accompanied by spellbinding visuals and dance sequences. If you’re not sold on the performances alone, the songs should do the trick.

Never Enough

Much like P.T. Barnum’s circus of oddities, it’s easy to judge based on what’s in front of you, rather than seeing it for what it is at the core. And in the case of the Greatest Showman, its overall story is what lets it down the most. While the exciting pace and fabulous music is obvious, Jenny Bicks’ story can only be described as ‘semi-superficial’, making an attempt to explore the theme of not evaluating yourself based on other people’s opinions, but never going far enough in-depth. Though I’m glad it made a fairly good attempt, the film missed a good opportunity to make an even greater social statement about the divide between different branches of society. The film presents the viewer with many challenges our heroes have to face, but because of the limited runtime, allows the characters to overcome these sequential challenges fairly easily. This in effect reduces the overall conflict and brings down the stakes we are meant to recognise. There may actually be some deliberate meta-irony here, as if the film itself is wowing the audience with all its tricks and flips, while the story in the background is far less impressive.

Concluding Remarks

The Greatest Showman is a reasonably good musical with exceptional music and performances. The clue’s already in the title, but the team here really know how to put on a great show. The positivity emanating from this film is contagious, and it comes highly recommended if you ever want to see an uplifting movie that isn’t Schindler’s List or Manchester by the Sea. While I fundamentally disagree with the critics who pan this film for being boring and empty, there is a strong argument to be made for the amount of fluff wrapped around The Greatest Showman, as well as the decision to not explore the complex and intriguing life of P.T. Barnum in more depth. But as a Hollywood movie, it certainly has parts that are nothing short of sensational.

Overall Score: 7.6/10

The Greatest Showman Trailer

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    • Nick Oon profile image
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      Nick Oon 6 weeks ago from London

      Thank you @Louise for your comment. Do watch it if period musicals with a modern twist are your thing!

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      Louise Powles 7 weeks ago from Norfolk, England

      This sounds like an interesting film. I wouldn't mind watching this. Thanks for the review.

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