The Greatest Showman Movie Review
The Greatest Showman, like the circus it brings to life, is a musical for the masses, an entertaining, somewhat sloppy production that is far from high art but adequately presents an underdog story for the working class. Starring an attractive cast—and a bunch of other people, too—and boasting an engaging if repetitive soundtrack, The Greatest Showman is worth the matinee price.
Hugh Jackman stars as P.T. Barnum, who in real life was apparently a man of questionable morals and personality, but who in this Hollywood musical is a handsome, endearing “champion of the freaks.” The movie, directed by first-timer Michael Gracey, follows Barnum as he develops from street rat into a rich socialite of sorts.
The film’s greatest strength is playing to Jackman’s, though in reality, does he have any weaknesses? Jackman is a great fit for the role, and coupled with Gracey’s fast-paced direction, injects plenty of energy into the production. The Greatest Showman pulses with fun and earnestness, and that’s enough to satisfy.
Its menagerie of historical inaccuracies can be forgiven due to its musical approach (do you really want to watch a musical where the main character essentially enslaves black people and adopts a four-year-old miniature person to use in his show?), but The Greatest Showman relies on its theatrics to overcome various deficiencies.
The oddest thing about the movie is its music—it’s fun, flighty and coupled with plenty of energetic dance sequences. But the song and dance numbers are also not particularly imaginative; most of the songs sound exactly the same, only with different lyrics, and Gracey rarely utilizes his unique cast of characters (a giant, a miniature person, a bearded woman, a hairy man) or sets—literally a circus—in clever ways. There are some exceptions—most notably, an aerial love ballad of sorts between Zac Efron and Zendaya, an ugly combination if I’ve ever seen one—but for the most part, the musical numbers are uninspired (yet still fun to watch).
The movie also misses the opportunity to really elevate its freak show performers, instead opting to give most of the screen time to the “pretty ones”—Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and previously mentioned Efron, Zendaya and Jackman.
Despite its shortcomings, The Greatest Showman is an enjoyable, entertaining jaunt. It isn’t perfect, nor is it as creative as first appearances would suggest, but it’s a pleasing musical that largely accomplishes its purpose.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.