Film Review: The Greatest Showman (2017)

2017 in Cinema:

The Greatest Showman, 2017

Directed by: Michael Gracey

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

 

The Greatest Showman is a somewhat true story of P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and how he started the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the lives of himself and all its attractions. After struggling with his initial museum he recruits unique individuals to be his star attractions (people with extra limbs, a woman with a beard, small grown men, people of colour and everyone in-between) and it turns out into a hit, albeit with its criticisms from some locals, and he expands and grows his circus.

This film actually turned out to be a lot more fun than I was expecting going in: from its soundtrack, its actors and the story, everything had such a feel-good factor about it. Hugh Jackman is brilliant as P. T. Barnum, perfectly capturing the emotions of a man who is trying to build his empire and trying to prove himself as an elite despite coming from a poor background (and attracting the love of a woman from a wealthy background). After seeing him star in Logan (and years of being Wolverine) I wasn’t sure how I was going to take to Hugh Jackman in a musical but by the end of the first song I was hooked in his performance, and more so because everyone else delivers a fine performance alongside him: Zac Efron delivers what I believe to be his finest performance, in a return to his musical roots, Zandaya (Spiderman: Homecoming) also puts in the best performance I’ve seen her in and everyone else was solid.

One of my favourite parts about this film, though, was its direction and writing. As a writer I’ve been brought up knowing a film, script or book should show, not tell; the idea that I should be shown that a character is evil, rather than having the narrator or another character calling them evil, thus telling me. In The Greatest Showman Zac Efron’s Phillip, a young playwright who joins as Barnum’s partner, has a loving interest in Zendaya’s Anne, a trapeze artist, and throughout the early part of their film they are introduced, fall in love and have a major obstacle blocking their way, all before they really say two words to each other, yet we, the audience, are following this narrative with ease, despite not being told anything. And I loved it. The obstacle is that Anne is coloured during a time when it wasn’t seen as normal for a white man to date ‘the help,’ as it’s put in the film, and that’s their arc, and through Zendaya’s speech on living in a world which looks negatively towards you it mirrors everyone else who is part of the circus, as they’ve all lived this life, and this is joined by two fantastic separate songs about living this life and it all worked so well together.

I did think the pacing of the film was a bit off, though, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s a legitimate complaint or if I’ve been brainwashed by Hollywood so much that I didn’t get what I was expecting. Early on we see the introduction of child versions of P. T. Barnum and his future-wife and through the first song they grow up and have kids to the present day (I loved this way of telling their back-story) then he buys the museum. However, there really isn’t a major struggle in making it a financial success: after the first-night failure of the museum he searches for personalities and suddenly the circus is a huge success, and he soon buys a mansion and takes the circus on tour, there’s no focus on the build of this attraction, it simply jumps straight to the finished product to tell a different story. This is what I mean, should it need more of a build-up, considering it’s the story of one of the world’s first circuses or is that just a Hollywood-forced mentality of how a film should be?

That aside, and a few other small complaints (like P. T. Barnum’s wife, Charity (Michelle Williams), who doesn’t really do much throughout the film other than be a wife, and a strange forced love affair, which I won’t spoil, but it doesn’t really serve too much and there are other ways of getting the characters into their new positions than that) I loved The Greatest Showman. It had really catchy music, a great ensemble cast with some weird and wonderful characters and characteristics, a nice story and some great editing (there’s a beautiful scene during one song where Charity is seen dancing with P. T. Barnum before he fades away and she’s left starring at a curtain, it tells such a story without needing words).

That is 57-and-out for 2017 in Cinema, thanks again for reading and I shall see you in 2018! 🙂

 

Plot: * * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * * *     Presentation: * * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ¼

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