Merry Christmas Eve everyone! The train keeps on rolling here at Enter the Movies. Today we're taking a look at The Greatest Showman a film that definitely should be good, but fails miserably. Perfect film to discuss during the holiday season, right? Let's just get this over with.....
What happened here? I wanted to like this movie so much. A musical centered around the life of the great P.T. Barnum? Featuring the lyricists for La La Land? Sign me up! But.....what we got was a superficial biopic musical that does everything it can to skip past the more interesting/controversial aspects of Barnum's life. If you're just looking for a feel-good family flick this holiday season, or are a big fan of Hugh Jackman, there may be enough here for you to have fun. But, if you're looking for anything more than that you're gonna have to keep on looking. It's not here. Which is a real shame.
So there's a surprisingly good allegory at the start of this film between "what you're hoping for" and "what you get" in this movie. Right off the bat, we're greeted with the classic 20th Century Fox title card. Like the one that preceded their films from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. It's accompanied by the classic theme as well, but as soon as that's done we're thrust into the "modern" 21st Century Fox title card with a very "current" and "hip" pop beat underneath it that leads into a tease of one of the big musical numbers. That ends up being the perfect summary of this film: you want a (at least) somewhat in-depth investigation of the life of Barnum that really gets your nostalgia going, but all you get is a flat and generic musical that makes Barnum out to be a hero and vilifies all who found what he was doing to be.....less-than-commendable. As for the music, (you know, the most important part of a musical) it's..... ok. The big single, "This Is Me," hits all the right notes, says all the right things, swells at the right moments, and will inevitably be nominated for an Oscar, (this year has been a somewhat weak year for original songs, but that may be because there's no La La Land this year) but the rest of the music is really lacking in my book. It's just generic pop music, which feels very out-of-place here. Oh hey! There's another good allegory here between what the music should've been and what we got! All the allegories. Rebecca Ferguson (GAH c'mon Ferguson! You can find better work than this!) plays the great opera singer Jenny Lind. She has a big solo number in the middle of the film, because of course in a musical someone playing a singer would get a solo number. What kind of song do you think that's going to be? If you thought "Celine Dion rip-off," then this film may be perfect for you! I almost burst into laughter when Jenny Lind started singing this song that is nothing like anything an opera singer would sing. I mean, I get that we may not get an opera song here, but really? This is what you're going to give us??? Sure, guys. Sure.
There are a few good things to like about this film. Hugh Jackman is great as P.T. Barnum. This role is right in his wheelhouse, and he is as charming and charismatic as ever. Zac Efron and Zendaya are pretty good too, and their duet has easily the best choreography of the entire film. (It may even be the only worthwhile choreography in the film) The editing is really good too, featuring some enjoyable transitions and good cuts in the dance numbers. But even within the editing there's some negatives. The final big dance number is a clusterbomb of visuals. We get this big long take where the camera is flying everywhere and people are dancing and animals are jumping around and it's just.....bad. It's such a visual overload that you just don't care about what's going on. Speaking of animals, though, hey! Remember when they were introduced to the circus? If you watch this movie then neither will you, because they will just randomly be introduced in the final scene with no real rhyme or explanation! Guess one day P.T. Barnum woke up and said, "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!" And then they were a thing. But that sudden introduction of animals is just an example of a larger problem with this film: it bites off way more than it can chew. Not only that, it chews on the wrong parts of Barnum's life. I mentioned that before, but it really irks me! This film turns Barnum into an undisputed hero, and vilifies everyone who took issue with what he was doing. Barnum was a lot more complicated than that, but this film doesn't have any time to investigate it. The protesters are all just people who hate the fact that Barnum was employing unique individuals, and the critic, played by Paul Sparks, (WHAT ARE YOU DOING MAN? GET IT TOGETHER YOU'RE BETTER THAN THIS) is just a whiny old man who hates fun. Oh! The unique individuals! They are nothing more than a sideshow in this film, despite being the focal point of "This Is Me." The film speeds past these individuals coming to grips with making money to have people laugh at them. That is a really interesting dynamic that should be at the center of this film, but no! We cannot move past it fast enough. Also! The film HORRIFICALLY botches Barnum's adventures with Jenny Lind, doing everything it can to vilify her and glorify him. (It made me extremely uncomfortable, especially now with the prominence of #MeToo) But it botched this section all while trying to make this movie all about following your dreams and being yourself, no matter who you may be. You can't have it both ways, guys. Oh and of COURSE Michelle Williams is wasted as "the wife." But at this point with all the other errors of this film, does that really surprise you? At least we can all laugh at how in the opening scene of this film she and Barnum are the same age, but later on they grow up to be Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams. They're only twelve years apart so you almost got it! And what's with the romance between Efron and Zendaya? Why is it a thing? Why should we care about it? Why is it "controversial"? Beats me. UGHHHHHHH HOW DO YOU SCREW THIS SOURCE MATERIAL UP THIS BADLY. This is the directorial debut of Michael Gracey, and boy do I hope he can recover from it.
There's really not much else to say about this thing. There are better films to see in theaters right now. I love me a good musical, and will make a point to see as many of them as I can when they hit theaters, but I have no intention of watching this one again any time soon. Go and give The Shape of Water some love, or just see Star Wars again. You'll thank me later. Now hallelujah I can stop thinking about this film!
The Critique: Despite the charisma of its leads, The Greatest Showman falls flat on its face in spectacular fashion thanks to the very poor handling of its subject matter.
The Recommendation: If you're a die-hard fan of Hugh Jackman, there may be enough to get you through this. Everyone else, though? Find something better.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad