The Greatest Showman: Movie Review

Updated on July 25, 2018
Leland Johnson profile image

Leland is a movie lover from way back! He offers tasteful critiques and original insights to help you make an informed viewing decision.

The Greatest Showman

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Seattle and Zendaya
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Seattle and Zendaya

What's It All About?

First and foremost it should be said that this film is a project 7 years in the making. Upon studying the life of P.T. (Phineas Taylor) Barnum, Hugh Jackman became intrigued with the man credited with creating the modern idea of show business.

"Prior to Barnum," says Jackman, "it was opera and Shakespeare, all a bit stuffy. Then he comes along and says, 'Let's just have some fun!' and he made sure people left his show happier than when they came in."

Barnum is a down on his luck dreamer. With ambition and salesmanship he manages to procure a large building in New York where he opens his Barnum's American Museum. Realizing that while the museum may be interesting featuring wax mannequins, it won't pay the bills. Fueled by a suggestion from one of his little girls he begins acquiring his "oddities." Placing fliers around the city calling for unique people, Barnum soon finds himself in the company of a giant, Siamese twins, a bearded lady, acrobats, the tattooed man, jugglers, fire swallowers, et al.

In a sense, Jackman gives a self-fulfilling prophecy; he compares Barnum with such visionaries as Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, saying "he really saw the world differently than other people." This film, under the guidance of Jackman, epitomizes that sentiment in that it is a film that not only sees the world differently, but compels the audience to do the same. The "oddities" are indeed odd. Some are grotesque in appearance, others bizarre, all demanding your attention. But when you listen to the words of the songs, you forget all that and find yourself rooting for them, cheering for them, hoping for them. In them, you will begin to see yourself.

Barnum's American Museum

Barnum's American Museum In 1858
Barnum's American Museum In 1858

What Building Stands Where Barnum's Museum Used To Be?

The Western Electric Building Now Occupies The Place Where Barnum's Museum Originally Stood.  Barnum Rebuilt His Museum Only To Have It Burn Again In 1897.  The Western Electric Building Was Built In 1958.
The Western Electric Building Now Occupies The Place Where Barnum's Museum Originally Stood. Barnum Rebuilt His Museum Only To Have It Burn Again In 1897. The Western Electric Building Was Built In 1958.

It takes something special to surprise us in a movie nowadays, doesn't it? Special effects dazzle us but often fall short in terms of acting talent and storyline. This one doesn't. It's one surprise after another showcased by actors and actresses that can do it all. Zendaya and Efron do their own stunt work. They ALL sing and dance. The chemistry between Jackman and Williams is superb as it is with Efron and Zendaya. Something else that impressed me was how well the vocals complimented one and other. The harmonies, unisons, and banter was first class. I especially enjoyed the "Other Side" number featuring Jackman and Efron in a singing/dancing bar scene (the one I missed the first time) with flying shot glasses and incredibly coordinated slides and side steps. Barnum is trying to persuade Efron's character, Phillip Carlyle, to financially support his show. The song is comprised of Barnum's linguistic, influential magic and of course wins over the skeptical Carlyle. Efron's vocal inflections perfectly capture the attitude of the snide young playwright, with rich boy condescension.

A constant theme throughout is that of Barnum's not being accepted by New York society. No matter how high his star rises he is still viewed as coming from and, belonging to, the gutter. Jackman shows with perfect subtle, clarity the insecurity this treatment has on the character demonstrating that there is more to life than financial success. There is respect and dignity, virtues Barnum extends to the "rejects" that comprise his circus.


Back Stage OL's Dave Morales Interviews Hugh Jackman

Seen It, Saw It Again

Upon my first viewing of The Greatest Showman in Birch Run Michigan, sound was spilling into our theater from the one next door. I got up to complain to a manager, a complaint that took long enough for me to miss one an important scene in its entirety. It worked out for the best as missing those 6 minutes was all the rationale I needed to talk my wife into seeing it a second time. Neither of us have a regret about it. In fact we are eagerly awaiting the DVD release to watch it again. However, should the urge strike us we could go see it again as it is still being shown in theaters across the country! Initially panned by some critics (I just read a review that gave it 2 out of 4 stars) this movie has not only exceeded expectations, but has actually set a record. Most movies see their biggest viewing in the first and second week of showing. The Greatest Showman actually picked up more views going into the second and third weeks than any other movie in motion picture history. One pundit attributes the post opening rise in attendance to word of mouth raves, either contradicting or flat out ignoring the nay sayers.

A Master Of Marketing, Barnum Always Insisted That Posters Be Spectacular In Appearance To Grab The Attention Of Passers By.
A Master Of Marketing, Barnum Always Insisted That Posters Be Spectacular In Appearance To Grab The Attention Of Passers By.

"From Now On" This Is My Personal Favorite From The Sountrack. (Song Begins At 1.08)

Original Site Of Barnum's American Museum

A
Barnum's American Museum:
224, 222 Broadway, New York, NY 10038, United States

get directions

P.T. Barnum, the Greatest Showman

Barnum in later life. Unfortunately, I could not find any high quality pictures of his wife, Charity Hallet Barnum.
Barnum in later life. Unfortunately, I could not find any high quality pictures of his wife, Charity Hallet Barnum.

Politician, Humanitarian, Abolitionist

Barnum served two terms in the Connecticut legislature in 1865 as a Republican for Fairfield. With the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution over slavery and African-American suffrage, Barnum spoke before the legislature and said, "A human soul, that God has created and Christ died for, is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit".

The Barnum Family/The Bunker Brothers (Siamese Twins)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Barnum's Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.
Barnum's Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.
Barnum's Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.

Why "The Greatest Showman" Is A Must See

This movie isn't just good because of what it contains, but also what it lacks. It lacks profanity, nudity, violence, and sensuality. "Showman" proves that it is possible to make a great movie with a PG rating. You don't have to squirm in your seat or even walk out of the theater for improprieties.

If you're looking for a movie with a message or a lesson, Showman is definitely a target rich environment. Don't give up, believe in yourself, do good things for other people, be faithful, be diligent. These are but a few of the prevailing themes of this movie.

The film scored poorly among critics for two reasons.

1. It was criticized as a "poor biopic" by one critic. The problem here is that the film isn't intended to be a biographical account of Barnum's life. Instead we are presented with themes and concepts, blown away by powerful imagery and knee slapping, sing-a-long songs. (I bought the soundtrack the day after we saw it and learned every song). This movie is musically outstanding as well and it isn't just the performances, it's the lyrics. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Oscar winning composers for "La La Land") knock it out of the park again with 10 original songs that will make you smile, cry, sing and shout along. I simply cannot say enough good things about "The Greatest Showman." Overly eager to be negative, critics simply missed the points this film conveys.

2. Throughout the movie Barnum repeatedly upstages a negative nelly critic. I think current critics resent that sentiment in the movie and have given poor reviews out of spite and vindictiveness.

Hollywood is watching viewership as usual. If they see the masses pouring out to see this movie they will get the cue that it's the kind of family friendly film people want, and they'll be inclined to make more like it.

Barnum's So-Called Oddities

Hugh "The Jack" Jackman

Jackman is my favorite actor. Whether he's tearing it up as "Wolverine" or fighting "Javert" as "Jean Val Jean", singing in Oklahoma as "Curly" he never disappoints. He brings a charisma and energy to every project he undertakes that has cemented him as an eclectic fan favorite. Who's the last actor, or any actor for that matter, that has dominated the action genre, drama, broadway, an has now opened up musicals for a whole new generations of film goers? This is more than just entertainment. Jackman's contribution to the entertainment industry rekindles a hope that there are still performers interested in putting on a great show rather than just appealing to the critics or the academy. Exciting as Jackman's portrayal of Barnum as "The Greatest Showman" was, I think the mantle has passed to a new showman in a new generation. Thanks for another great movie experience, Hugh Jackman!

For a more thorough treatment of this terrific actor just follow the link below to my article, "Hugh Jackman: an Inspiration."


The Bearded Lady

Josephine Clofullia, Also Known As The Bearded Lady
Josephine Clofullia, Also Known As The Bearded Lady

A Must See!

5 stars for The Greatest Showman

If You Saw "The Greatest Showman" Tell Us How You Rate It

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    © 2018 Leland Johnson

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