IMDb summary: inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.
The Greatest Showman, written by Jenny Bicks (one of the writers on Sex and the City) and Bill Condon (directed Beauty and the Beast, wrote Chicago, did both on Dreamgirls), is the story of P.T. Barnum. Being a mainstream musical that values entertainment value over accuracy, The Greatest Showman puts a fictional and quite an optimistic spin on a really dark and depressing real-life story. Barnum’s circus was not the safe haven for the different and marginalized, it was a prison for the so-called ‘freaks’ who neither the society nor Barnum himself actually cared for. And while there are some hints in the film for Barnum’s darker side (him turning away from his performers, and following the money and the high society’s acceptance instead), the overall final product can hardly be called a biography. Nevertheless, if one divorces the movie from its source material and takes it as a fictional story, then The Greatest Showman can absolutely be enjoyable (that’s how I enjoyed the movie – by treating it as a fictional musical rather than a biography).
Thematically, the picture explored ideas of hope and celebrated imagination and tolerance (again, take it as a fictional story, not a biography). It also expressed some ideas about hoaxes as lies for a good purpose (felt iffy about that message). The Greatest Showman also attempted to be a celebration of difference, however, it didn’t end up doing much else than just showcasing the difference – what I mean by this is that the script lacked character development for the majority of the performers. P.T. Barum received the most development, him being the lead and all, but even his personal arc was rushed at the beginning.
A visual effects supervisor Michael Gracey debuted as a director with The Greatest Showman and did quite a good job. Of course, he did get a lot of help from the aforementioned songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (their other credits include Dear Evan Hansen – a new and beloved Broadway musical as well as ‘Runnin’ Home To You’ – the song from The Flash musical episode) and composers John Debney and John Trapanese. The choreographer Ashley Wallen is also responsible for the success of the film’s musical numbers. And the musical numbers were plentiful. While on the first hearing, all of the songs somewhat blended together for me, upon a second listen, I started to appreciate them all separately. While ‘This is Me’ was certainly a great song and deserves the awards recognition it is getting, my favorite track was actually ‘Never Enough’. That song might be a bit too depressing and too real for the academy/other awards voters. What I wish that The Greatest Showman had less of was the reprisals of its songs. There were a lot of them and maybe a bit too many for a less than a 2-hour movie.
I’ve seen a few complaints online about the fact that this old school musical had a modern soundtrack – I actually loved the combo of old and new, but, then again, I liked how The Great Gatsby used modern music and I just love easy pop songs in general. I also loved how the movie realized its setting of a carnival/circus – I always thought that circus was a rich and realistically magical setting that is open to a lot of possibilities. In fact, The Greatest Showman’s circus numbers reminded me a bit of one short carnival sequence in the remake of Fame which I have always adored (linked it here).
Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Eddie The Eagle) starred in the lead of the film and did a good job. There was a reason why he so desperately wanted to make this movie – he knew he would be very good in it. It took me a few songs to get used to him not singing opera-like classics – I have only really heard him singing in Les Miserables before.
Zac Efron (The Disaster Artist, Baywatch, Mike and Dave, We Are Your Friends) was also really good in the picture and it was fun to see him coming back to his roots – a genre that made him well known in the first place (yes, I did grew up watching him in HSM, don’t judge me). Zendaya (Spider-Man) also delivered a wonderful performance, made even more amazing by the fact that she was actually the one doing the trapeze stunts. Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea) was also great in the film and in a less depressing role than she usually plays.
Rebecca Ferguson (The Snowman, MI5) delivered a great performance too – I loved the scene of her and Hugh Jackman just looking at each other. However, the most notable scene of Ferguson’s wasn’t even notable because of Ferguson herself – the aforementioned song ‘Never Enough’ was sung by her character but not by the actress herself. She was only lip syncing to the vocals of Loren Allred. Lastly, Keala Settle rounded out the cast and was superb.
In short, The Greatest Showman was a great musical with delightful performances that was a bit let down by its mediocre writing
Trailer: The Greatest Showman trailer