The Greatest Showman (2017) Review


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.
Cast and Characters. So this movie has a lot of characters being that it’s a musical and each act is large in some ways. I’m only going over a few of them.
  • Hugh Jackman as P. T. Barnum. He is an imaginative person, ever since he was a kid, he’s had grand ideas. He is ambitious and an entrepreneur. He wants to make life better for his family and he sets his sights on impressing the world with his collection of oddities, but when that doesn’t work, he remembers the person who helped him as a child and decides to seek out people who are different and who society may have shunned. Barnum is a likable guy, he’s a bit of a con man but with a “heart of gold” however, he gets a bit too big for his britches and has a lot of learning to do. While this is a real person, the movie doesn’t really go into that, at least some of the more accurate details about this man, and I get while that might be an issue for some people but for what the movie is, it doesn’t bother me. I think Hugh Jackman is great, he is such a likable man who even if he was playing the darker aspects of Barnum’s character, I would probably still like him. Ugh. lol, he is having so much fun in this movie and I read this was something he’s been wanting to do for a long time and it shows that he loves what he’s doing.
  • Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle. He is a young playwright and a socialite that Barnum recruits to become a partner. Phillip seems to be bored with his life, even though he reaps the benefits of it because of the money, so Barnum wants him to work with him so he can gain happiness. Phillip is against at first because not everyone is down for Barnum’s business. But he gives in lol. I like Zac Efron, I’ve never been a huge fan or anything, but he’s definitely likable, very earnest and I like watching him fall in love with Zendaya, it was really cute. Plus, he can sing and dance. I love the ending and his reaction to Hugh Jackman’s choice.
  • Michelle Williams as Charity Barnum. P.T.’s childhood love and his biggest fan. She loves him, encourages him and supports him. She is such a loyal wife, and she goes along for the ride each time. Michelle Williams is great, she had great chemistry with Hugh Jackman and she’s sweet. She’s likable too.
  • Zendaya as Anne Wheeler. She is an acrobat and trapeze artist. Anne is a bit quiet, she and her older brother W.D. work together and they both are worried about being in the show considering they are black but they’re both very good at what they do. She is featured more than her brother in that she has a subplot with Zac Efron. I think one of the main things about her is that she understands the time period and while there may be things she wants, she know she probably won’t be able to get them due to her skin color. It was a nice addition to her story that I will mention again later on. I read that Zendaya did all of her own stunt work, which is great and really cool! Zendaya is great, she’s awesome lol. She looks great in the movie, her character doesn’t get much to do at times other than looking subdued a lot of the time, but when she’s performing, that’s when she comes alive which is easy to tell she’s having fun. She also has a nice singing voice.
  • Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz. She is a bearded lady with a strong personality and an even stronger voice. Barnum hears about her and goes to meet her, but he hears her singing which draws him even closer to her. Lettie is of course withdrawn due to her beard, and she has a hard time at times, getting used to people seeing her full on, but she gains strength, and Lettie becomes like the strength and voice of the group of performers. I would say this is probably Keala Settle’s big movie, she was in two other things, but this is probably the one that has her in the front. She has a beautiful voice, she leads “This Is Me” and I think she was great in this role. The vulnerability she was able to have coupled with the resolve and courage, I thought was great. I’m glad she was a leading supporting character.
  • Other Characters. Sam Humphrey as Charles Stratton, who is a dwarf performer, he becomes known as General Tom Thumb. He’s funny, and I think his scene with Barnum at the beginning is a great heartfelt scene. Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind, she is a famous Swedish singer, known as the Swedish Nightingale and Barnum meets her and wants to have her perform to give his show a bit of reality, since it’s been criticized as a fraud. Her performance was beautiful. I had chills. Rebecca Ferguson is a great actress and the emotional moments she is great in, plus I wondered if she actually sang. That’s impressive.
The Soundtrack. The music is by Pasek and Paul, a nice little duo. I love musicals and what makes or breaks them is the music in the film. How does it enhance the story, the characters? How do the actors sound while singing them? Do they flow or do they come out of nowhere. I think the music fits well into this film. It’s very catchy, I walked away humming “This Is Me”. I think all of the singing is good, I think in some songs its better than others but I liked all of the music. I think one of the standouts is “Never Enough” which is sung by Loren Allred (Rebecca Ferguson’s character) because her voice gave me chills. I also liked Keala Settle’s voice quite a bit too. The soundtrack is worth having or listening to.
Cinematography. Seamus McGarvey is the cinematographer and I think between his eye and the director Michael Gracey, the film looks really nice. Especially during the beginning when Ziv Zaifman is singing his song (well providing the singing voice for the young actor), and it turns into Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams, the film takes on this whimsical look, very imaginative and dreamy to reflect what is being sung about. As certain things happen, the atmosphere reflects that. Plus during all of the musical numbers, I think it’s very easy to see what’s going on, which characters are dancing, or are singing at the moment, the camera definitely follows the action clearly. Even when Zendaya’s character is flying through the air, you actually see her doing so.
The Spectacle. I think there is a lot that goes into this, and it’s a good thing. Sometimes “spectacle” can have negative connotations but here I mean it in a good way. The movie is larger than the life. It’s a musical. The musical numbers are grand and eye-catching, they make you feel good watching them. The opening scene starts the movie off with a bang, coupled with the song, and the effects… it’s so cool. Ellen Mirojnick does the costumes they’re all very nice, I love particularly the costumes of the performers in the circus (Anne’s acrobat costume and the bearded lady’s purple dress), I loved how Michelle Williams’ flowy dresses looked when she danced, especially in the beginning and Jenny Lind’s clothes were also fantastically beautiful. If this movie can do anything, it’s give you a show and it’s so much fun!
The Story Is Unfocused. Unfortunately, I think this movie suffers from not knowing exactly what story it wants to tell. It has a lot going on. There is a young P.T. Barnum who has a huge imagination and wants to do more with his life, even though he’s poor (Rags to riches obviously), then there’s the whole thing with Charity in which her parents don’t think he’s good enough for her. There is the whole losing his job and finding out what to do and how to give his family “everything”, then when it actually comes to having his museum (it doesn’t become a circus till later), he has to recruit unique people and then that whole “be who you are, let your freak flag fly” thing, and then the Barnum gets recognized after a very successful performance that he gets an ego and… I could go on. I mean, all of these things could work well together but the movie, doesn’t know how to juggle it all. Plus, there is the side plot with Zendaya and Zac Efron and the interracial romance thing, Efron has a reason to be in the film but outside of her interactions with him, she didn’t have to be in it, at least not for romantic reasons. I just don’t think it balances it all well.
Shallow. The movie wants to talk about embracing your imagination and being okay with who you are, but it never really addresses that seriously. The only time I can say it really addresses the “be who you are” is when Barnum first meets Charles Stratton and the little speech he gives him and then the “This is Me” moment. Otherwise, the movie gets lost in the spectacle more than it does the story unfortunately. It feels shallow where it tries to feel deep. I also feel like certain moments that happened aren’t earned so they feel lackluster, even though while watching the movie, it’s cute but it doesn’t leave a lasting mark or even a thought afterwards because it doesn’t feel serious in the film. I also think the characters, while interesting, aren’t all developed enough that make them feel like characters outside of being in Barnum’s world.
The Romance. So, it’s no secret that Zac Efron and Zendaya’s characters have a connection in the film. The trailers show that, and it’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but it’s completely random. Sure, he sees her while she’s performing and they have a little connection (they show the slow motion shot in the trailer) but it seems like he is way more smitten than she is. I get it. The time period, she’s black, he’s white and obviously there would be problems with that, and it does fit into that whole “be who you are” in that he shouldn’t be afraid to be seen with her but it’s kind of weird still because he gets that luxury where she wouldn’t and she talks about that, they have a song (cute song) but it’s so random to me. They hardly ever talked before. Again, it was cute and I didn’t mind it (I thought they had chemistry) but it was left field and not explored well enough to be a subplot.
Overall, I liked The Greatest Showman. It is definitely that feel good movie of the Christmas and holiday season. If you want to have a movie with good music, larger than life musical numbers, beautiful costumes and a good time, you’ll find it in this movie. I think it’s well acted, and the characters are interesting people. The music is fantastic and I think the soundtrack is worth having or just listening to. While the movie is a good time, I do think some of the more important things are lacking in the film, like the story. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t think it’s considered as important as the music or musical numbers were. I don’t have a problem with the inaccurate storytelling, though I know for some people that will be a huge problem, but I do think it’s unfocused. It also feels shallow, it talks about certain important social issues, but it doesn’t really go into it, nor does it feel like they care that much. I also think the romance side plot between Anne and Phillip doesn’t quite feel earned, nor as important to the story as it tries to be. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this movie!
Rating: 3.0 out of 5 stars.
Have you seen The Greatest Showman? Let me know your thoughts on it!
Which musical do you think is better Mamma Mia or Hairspray?
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