This feel-good adaptation of the life of P.T Barnum is exactly what the title of the film suggests, he is the greatest showman and the basis of the entire film is not afraid to run with that – be prepared.
The film focuses on the life of the man called P.T Barnum wanting to not only fulfill his dreams of becoming the first showman at whatever cost, but taking on the world and proving he means something.
From the bombastic and colorful scenery to the flourished and extravagant production design, this film focuses heavily on bringing forth a happy and joyful film experience over depth and emotional complexity; don’t expect the intricacies that can been seen in films like La La Land (2016).
While the film puts some effort in bringing the cast together by following the theme of “be proud, you’re different”, it falls considerably short in making that message feel important, as almost every character including the lead by Hugh Jackman had very watered down backstories and underdeveloped personalities. The Greatest Showman is a firecracker without enough gunpowder, enough to make a fizzle, but not enough to make a bang.
The performances in general were vibrant and full of life, many of even the smaller roles worked naturally in the film, sadly opportunities for actors to show their full range were seldom available due to the fast pace of the film, it rapidly brushes over most of the plot and instead focuses on being a show and not a story. This film was fast, very fast, and it felt like the relationship with story and theatrics began to separate, consequently many of the performances could not stand out as exemplary as many scenes were remarkably brief when the story was involved. Jackman does offer a great voice to this film, but is ultimately underutilized when you look closer at his other work in musicals like Les Miserables (2012); there simply wasn’t much to get excited about. Rebecca Ferguson and Michelle Williams both provided some layers of emotion but couldn’t manage to go above and beyond to pull any heart strings.
The visual aspects of this film are what gave it this score, from the magnificent costumes and authentic hairstyling, this film was heading towards being a visually seamless experience, it certainly had hiccups in CGI but those were wiped away by the films magical combination of technical feats and showmanship. The soundtrack itself was certainly one of the higher points of the experience, with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, both of whom worked on La La Land fronting the films soundtrack, it had a modern twist to it that may or may not be for everyone. For some people the music might feel too similar to modern pop music and it has a tendency to drag on a tad too long, for others the film exists purely for its entertainment value, offering a fun, upbeat nature, with a happy message pushed through the lyrics.
The Greatest Showman certainly isn’t the greatest movie, but it has some qualities that critics should give praise to and not ignore. The weakness of its story is what separates it from becoming a great musical – whether it was trying to have an impactful story or not, this film stands as an entertaining watch, but also as a case study of yet another film forgetting the golden rule: Story is king. As vibrantly flashy as it is thunderously loud – The Greatest Showman shines most of its spotlights on the theatrics of its singing and dancing; sadly forgetting that the story is the star of the show.