Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams
Director: Michael Gracey
Running Time: 105 mins
The Greatest Showman is an American film about the story of P.T. Barnum, a man who rose from nothing to establish the world of show business.
Movie musicals, particularly in recent years, can go one of two ways. They can be genuinely exhilarating and heartwarming extravaganzas like La La Land, or pretentious and showy projects like Les Misérables. Unfortunately, The Greatest Showman falls closer to the latter category, as it suffers from a painfully cheesy story combined with awkward musical numbers throughout. It may feature a delightful and passionate lead turn from Hugh Jackman, as well as great costume design, and an interesting historical setting, but on the whole, this is a film that will likely leave you rolling your eyes more than beaming from ear to ear.
Before we get into why this film is ultimately a disappointment, however, let’s look at what does work well. Above all, the performances here are pretty good throughout. In the lead role, Hugh Jackman is delightful as P.T. Barnum, and with his endlessly likable persona and charisma, along with the fact that he’s so clearly passionate about the history of the birth of show business, he’s an absolute delight to watch from start to finish.
Alongside Jackman is a huge ensemble cast that also features a selection of other strong performances. Although nobody really stands out as much as Jackman, the likes of Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson and even Zac Efron (in his best non-comedic performance in years), all add to the film’s impressive scope, which was great to see.
As well as the performances, I was impressed with how this film crafts its historical setting throughout. The costume design is absolutely exquisite, and a delight to see light up the screen, while the film also does a great job of telling you a pretty interesting history about the birth of the biggest business in the world. Centring around the first circus, The Greatest Showman works brilliantly as a historical drama, and will definitely offer up some intriguing new things to learn about.
However, as strong as all that is, I just couldn’t get over how cheesy and fake this film appeared. Yes, I can tell that there’s passion behind it, particularly from Hugh Jackman’s performance, but the whole atmosphere of the movie is incredibly plastic and fake, trying to be a crowd-pleasing and inspiring musical, but instead ending up as the sort of movie that will have you cringing and rolling your eyes at from beginning to end.
While it’s not all disgustingly cheesy, the film starts off on an awful note, with one of the most painfully cheery opening acts I’ve ever seen, as we swing through two big musical numbers that tell us of Barnum’s humble beginnings when he was a boy. However, rather than introduce any real dramatic intrigue in that regard, the opening act is nothing more than twenty minutes of pure schmaltz, with a particularly painful main song that’s bookended by infuriatingly generic and dull cheese.
From then on, things aren’t ever as bad, and as we get to the part of the story where we see Barnum establish his circus, there are even some elements of the cheesy story that do work. While it doesn’t do much to deepen the drama, I still found the schmaltzy family element of the circus troupe surprisingly pleasant, something that managed to keep me emotionally engrossed by the main plot.
Despite that, the film then descends back into another cheesy and fake-inspiring act as it moves towards its finale. There’s more drama and conflict thanks to the development of the characters and the story previously, but much like the first act, it just doesn’t feel genuine, and willl definitely have you cringing hard as the film comes to a rather abrupt ending.
Finally, let’s talk about the music. I’ve never been a huge fan of the movie musical, but sometimes, it’s a genre that can work magic like no other. However, The Greatest Showman isn’t one of those. Above all, the musical style of the movie feels very misplaced with regards to its historical setting, with all of the songs featuring that horrible autotuned sound that you get in the cheesiest pop hits nowadays, something that continuously distracted me throughout.
What’s more is that the movie committs the cardinal sin of the musical genre, not blending music and story together. Although there are a couple that largely dodge the bullet, the majority of the musical numbers here break out very abruptly, and as they drag on for far too long, feel like hugely jarring blocks in the middle of the story that offer very little. Generally, the choreography and singing ability on display is excellent, but this film fails to weave its musical numbers in seamlessly with the story, something that’s really frustrating, and again rather distracting, to see.
Overall, I was disappointed by The Greatest Showman. It’s a spectacular piece, and clearly a film made with great passion, but it fails to be either emotionally genuine or consistent throughout, due to a painfully cheesy atmosphere from beginning to end, and musical numbers that don’t do enough to add to the story, instead regularly impeding its development, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.0.