The Greatest Showman is directed by Michael Gracey and stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, and Zendaya.
Before I start the actual review part of the review, I would first like to give a special shout-out to The Greatest Showman for helping me cross something off my bucket list: being the first movie that I saw completely alone in a theater. This is something I've been trying to make happen so so many times, meticulously picking out certain movies at certain times with the mindset of, "Okay, there should be NO WAY anyone else will come to see THIS movie at THIS time." I would be sitting in the theater by myself with about 5-10 minutes before the previews began, and then just when I think I can enjoy watching the movie all by myself in the theater, two or three random people walk in. But anyway, because of The Greatest Showman being the first (and probably not last) film where I got to enjoy this experience of being all alone in a theater, the movie is going to forever hold a bizarre place in my heart, and I now feel obligated to buy the movie on Blu-Ray when it comes out.
So now that we got that little bit of trivia out of the way, let us proceed to the actual review. I am led to believe that I had some form of an advantage going into seeing The Greatest Showman, because I had earlier seen The Greatest Show on Earth, the only other film to seriously tackle the Ringling Bros. circus that P.T. Barnum had co-founded. That film, while quite bloated, gave us a neat display of the kind of people who performed in the circus and how they went about putting on a show. More of the same is presented in The Greatest Showman, but with more focus now on how P.T. Barnum became the successful showman that he was, and how many of the performers were treated by others outside of the circus.
The film opens with P.T. Barnum and his troupe performing in a circus, and then we flash back to Barnum's childhood. The young P.T. and his father (Will Swenson) work as tailors for the Hallett family, and P.T. becomes infatuated with the Hallett family's young daughter, Charity (Skylar Dunn). Charity is sent away to finishing school, but P.T. assures that the two will never be separated. He and Charity go back and forth sending letters to one another in order to keep in contact. The two meet again as adults, get married, and raise two daughters, Helen (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely), in New York City.
One day, P.T. loses his job at a shipping company after the company goes bankrupt, leaving him and his family with little to no money. P.T. decides to take a risk and take a loan out from a bank- he deceives the bank with collateral from his old job- and uses the money to purchase an a museum in downtown Manhattan. P.T. intends to display various wax models at the Museum, but this results in few to no ticket sales. On the suggestion of his children to showcase something alive, P.T. then begins to search for various "freaks", that is, people with unique and bizarre features. Some of the "freaks" that P.T. recruits include the dwarf Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey), the bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), and the acrobatic trapeze artists Anne (Zendaya) and W.D. (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). The new show attracts massive audiences, but also draws protests and poor reviews from a critic (Paul Sparks). Barnum eventually renames his venture "Barnum's Circus", and he continually seeks out new ways to expand upon his success and earn approval from those in the upper class.
If the box office numbers of The Greatest Showman as well as 2016's La La Land prove anything, it's that mainstream audiences are making at least one musical film a year into a smash hit, which completely buries my long-standing belief that mainstream audiences have fallen out of favor with musical films in recent years. 2018 is bringing the Mary Poppins sequel, and I'm already declaring that that film will be 2018's big musical hit. But anyway, The Greatest Showman has created one of the more divided consensus of opinions between critics and audiences in recent memory; critics have declared the film dazzling but wildly inaccurate while audiences have raved about the movie's themes of acceptance. I find myself smack dab in the middle of these two claims, although a small part of me leans more towards agreeing with mainstream audiences.
- The Greatest Showman is brimming with energy and dazzling music, like if a young Julie Andrews or Judy Garland were trying to perform while hyped up on caffeine. Everyone goes all out with exuberance when they are singing and dancing, which makes sense in the spirit of what the movie wants to be. Barnum makes frequent mention about how he puts a smile on audience members' faces, and when your job is to entertain people, don't you want to try and put the biggest, giddiest smile ever on everyone's face? In terms of trying to entertain you and give you energetic and memorable music, The Greatest Showman triumphs.
- At the heart of The Greatest Showman is a message about, "accepting others, no matter how different they may be from you" which is not to be confused with the generic "be yourself" message. The "freaks" that Barnum recruits for his show are all people who are shunned and looked down upon simply because of their unusual characteristics, and Barnum is able to draw out their talent and help them feel the kind of love and appreciation they could never enjoy before. I appreciate the movie avoiding the shove-it-down-your-throat approach with this crucial aspect of the story, even though it's impossible for the movie to be subtle about it in any way.
- The one place where The Greatest Showman truly falls short is in its lack of depth in regards to its storytelling, with the film being just loosely based on his origins in show business. The real life P.T. Barnum was an interesting figure, with the movie making absolutely no mention of certain events in his life such as his time on the Connecticut legislature and his founding of Bridgeport Hospital, both of which would have been interesting topics for the movie to shed light on. Instead, the movie rushes through many of Barnum's significant life events at breakneck speed, a harmful side effect of the movie's sugar-rush energy. Any and all events of Barnum's life that are addressed are those that constitute the absolute essentials, making it harder for us to look more closely at who the man behind the curtain was.
If you want to get the most out of The Greatest Showman, it's best to not think too hard about its historical inaccuracies and instead enjoy it for how much it wants to entertain and charm you. The singing and dancing are full of energy, and the movie holds a sweet-natured center, as evident by its timely message of acceptance. Hardcore P.T. Barnum enthusiasts should stay far far away. For everyone else, the movie is a musical treat that's full of joy and much more worthy than that Rotten Tomatoes score it has received.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: