Great, but not greatest: A ‘The Greatest Showman’ film review

 4.51 over 5 stars.

“The Greatest Showman” is simply a dazzle. It is a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Albeit having a motivational-yet-somehow-shallow plot, its vibrant visuals and trendy music are on point. To top it off, the movie is composed of an ensemble cast led by the immensely talented Hugh Jackman. Indeed, Michael Gracey put a lot of hard work in his directorial debut, and it all paid off.

The Story

3.94 over 5 stars.

Loosely based on the life story of P. T. Barnum, the film opens with a flashback to Barnum’s not-so-happy childhood. He was leading a meager life, but found himself infatuated with Charity Hallett, a girl from a well-off family. Her father separates the two, but Barnum keeps in touch through exchanging letters. He then dreams of a perfect life for the two of them, and works hard to achieve it.

Soon, adult Barnum takes Charity away from her family. They wed and have two children. Charity learns to embrace the simple life, but Barnum yearns for more.

After getting dismissed from his job, Barnum is granted a loan by a bank. He eagerly uses the money to buy Barnum’s American Museum. However, his excitement turns to stone as people seem to be uninterested in the museum’s showcase of wax figures. Inspired then by her daughters’ ideas, he hires freaks, including the bearded lady Lettie Lutz, to star in shows at his museum. He also solicits the assistance of Philip Carlyle, a playwright who falls in love with an acrobat and one of Barnum’s artists, Anne Wheeler. The shows prove to be a hit to the masses, even if it was met with protests of indecency, and criticisms of fraud.

A big break comes to Barnum when he is invited to grace England’s Queen Victoria with his presence. There, during his courtesy call, he meets Jenny Lind a.k.a. the Swedish Nightingale. He entices her of a brighter limelight, and brings her to America. Her first performance garners a standing ovation, and she soon rises to bigger fame.

As Barnum’s reputation tips to the good side with him being Jenny’s manager, he goes on tour with her. Blinded by his dreams of having more, he leaves behind and seems to have neglected the real stars of his circus, and even his family. His non-contentment drives him away from those who love him and whom he truly cares for. After a tragic event and a big scandal, Barnum finds himself losing his family, and trying to mend his relationship with all of them.

Jenny captivates everyone’s admiration, including Barnum’s in “Never Enough.” Photo from the Internet Movie Database.

Barnum’s tale is an uplifting one. Its themes are golden. Although the real P. T. Barnum is without a doubt a conman, Jackman’s Barnum inspires the audience to dream bigger, but not to be blinded by one’s lofty ambitions. True enough, we do not need all the glitter and gold. We can find happiness in people around us – in people who treat us as family.

Another compelling theme from the movie is how the circus freaks learn to step away from the shadow. At first, they were ashamed of being seen by the world. Soon though, they are able to embrace their uniqueness, and be proud of who they are.

Despite these motivational themes, the story is somewhat superficial. The lack of depth to the characters does threaten to destroy. Also, the movie was only an hour and three quarters long. Hence, there was no more room for enriching the plot. Lengthening the film a bit would surely not hurt. Anyway, adapting this movie into theater would probably give more opportunity to expound the story line. Fortunately, the film is saved by all its other good points.

The Sights and Sounds

4.75 and 4.58 over 5 stars respectively.

Barnum in his moment of glory, wearing his signature top hat. Photo from the Internet Movie Database.

“The Greatest Showman” is a visual spectacle. No part of the movie is too tiring for the eyes. The wardrobe is vibrant, the sets are wonderful, and the cinematography is magnificent. I like the symbolism of Barnum’s top hat, and how it became an important element in the story. I also loved how time seemed to have stopped in various points in the movie. The technique was well executed, and it was effective in conveying the story.

Of course, the musical’s biggest asset is its music. Its trendy songs are catchy, and the lyrics are divine. My favorite song would be the duet of star-crossed lovers, “Rewrite the Stars”, by Zac Efron and Zendaya. Their trapeze-and-song performance was impeccable.

With the fantastic visuals and pop-themed music combined, an art, that is this film, is born. Its complementary choreography is cherry on top. I really loved all the musical sequences, especially Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron’s playful act in “The Other Side.”

The Starrers

4.75 over 5 stars.

(From left to right) Keala Seattle, Zendaya, Hugh Jackman, Director Michael Gracey, and Zac Efron at the red carpet premiere. Photo from the Internet Movie Database.

The cast, top-billed by Hugh Jackman (P. T. Barnum), is beyond remarkable. Jackman’s acting and singing prowess can never be questioned. Zac Efron, who played as Philip, was also commendable in this movie. His singing scenes are trips down memory lane to his days in “High School Musical”. Hopefully, he sings more in the near future. Zendaya, as Anne, exuded beauty in this film. Her pure vocals matched her grace. Keala Seattle’s portrayal of Lettie was praiseworthy. You can really feel how she learns to accept herself and brave the world in “This is Me.” Finally, Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely, who both took the roles of Barnum’s daughters, were so adorable.

Michelle Williams was okay as Charity, but I felt that there was something off in her performance. I just do not know exactly what. Same goes with Rebecca Ferguson who portrayed Jenny. Probably, it is because she did not actually sing “Never Enough” – she was lip syncing Loren Allred’s voice. Her hand gestures whilst singing on stage were somehow distracting. She was a good faker, nevertheless. Moreover, Jenny was made to look like a classical singer in the film, but her voice did not blend with her appearance. Still, her aria is splendid in itself.

Film Score Board_The Greatest Showman

Truly, “The Greatest Showman” is not a waste of ticket. It is an hour and three quarters of feeling good. Director Michael Gracey and his team deserve all the honors that his debut film is receiving. They all did a brilliant job in this movie, especially in the visuals and music department. Of course, the cast also deserves two thumbs up, and most of my praises would go to Hugh Jackman. He was able to successfully lead the film, and become the greatest showman.

This film may not be the greatest due to its shallow story, but it is undoubtedly on its way at receiving a million accolades. Kudos to “The Greatest Showman!”

This post’s featured image is from the Playbill.


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