The Greatest Showman Review (2017): Misguided Musical

The Greatest Showman Review (2017): Misguided Musical
courtesy of TSG Entertainment & 20th Century Fox

The Greatest Showman  is a great disappointment of sorts. Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zach Efron, and Zendaya are all wonderful actors and actresses, but the screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon didn't do these fine folks the justice they deserve! The film doesn’t take advantage of its position of a late release smack dab in the middle of awards season. It falls short of the promise of being an indelible, momentous spectacle. A whole lotta hoo-ha and not enough substance (me with sad face emoji).

In the story, a young P. T. Barnum has a dream to be a wealthy businessman in entertainment. He and his father are servants for a wealthy family. Years later, he falls in love with the girl from this family, Charity, who later becomes his wife (Michelle Williams).  Her parents disapprove of the marriage union with P.T Barnum (Hugh Jackman).

Fast forward several more years, P.T. and Charity begin a life together and have two girls. P.T. then looses his job and steals a worthless contract and sells it to the bank as equity/credit for buying a rundown museum. At first he struggles, then finds strange and intriguing performers like the bearded lady, tattooed man, the little general, trapeze artists, and others. Eventually, P. T. Barnum becomes greedy, neglecting his family, and the circus, while investing all of his affections and money into an up and coming opera star, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), called "The Swedish Nightingale".


photo cred: Niko Tavernise, 20th Century Fox

photo credit: Niko Tavernise, 20th Century Fox

This story is loosely based on portions of P. T. Barnum’s life. I will conclude that once again, the dialogue and story were not memorable enough for any real merit. Characters were not as developed as I would have expected and this seemed to be a waste of real talent. It was slightly entertaining, yet I would have enjoyed more classical music to reflect the time period.  The musical numbers contain some elements of mysticism, however, the film lacks the element of surprise (a whole bunch of glitz and glitter and flashy stuff). The Greatest Showman lacks substance in the relationships between Barnum and his band of performers. I feel like this movie also villainized Barnum and made him seem reckless and impervious to the conditions of the poor and downtrodden, although he was a victim of poverty.

The visual effects were and musical numbers were the best parts of the film. I felt like this movie should have not been in theaters, maybe a TV movie. The Greatest Showman was overly ambitious, but falls short of the key elements needed to make a successful musical stand its ground. Also, I have not seen too many films from director, Michael Gracey and I am surprised that studios would take such a big chance on an unknown director.


photo credit: Niko Tavernise and 20th Century Fox

photo credit: Niko Tavernise and 20th Century Fox

This film does however bring light to issues of politics, societal class bias, economics, eccentric persons, and race. I believe this story was told as an allegory. While Barnum succeeded in his efforts in becoming famous,  this film shows that he neglected the ones who helped him achieve his dreams. One thing that I did appreciate was the relationship that blossomed between the wealthy playwright, Phillip Carlyle (Zach Efron) and acrobat, Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). This seemed more prevalent/notable than Barnum’s relationship with his children or even his circus performers.
Overall, I would rate this film 2 and half stars out of 4. I was disappointed in the lack of development of characters, especially PT Barnum. He seemed very two dimensional. There aren’t many musicals this year and this one I expected to wow everyone. But alas, it did not take advantage of its opportunity. It is one of the only musicals this year, so it will receive some accolades, but it is definitely not the best of the best. It wasn’t memorable or very original. I wish they could do this film over… the right way!

Michael Gracey
Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon
Jenny Bicks
Laurence Mark, p.g.a, Peter Chernin, p.g.a, Jenno Topping, p.g.a
Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
John Debney & Joseph Trapanese

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