While P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) was a real historical figure, and his life story is something that wasn’t made directly for the screen (although… more on that later), this remains an original musical through and through. Never before heard songs carry the weight of the film through its dazzling adventure of show business, crafting a musical experience yet to be seen or experienced in any other medium. This is further excited through the idea of Hugh Jackman in the lead, once again shedding his musical talents and having the time of his life doing so. The Greatest Showman was looking to be one to remember. And yet, it’s one of the more disappointing films of 2017.
P.T. Barnum’s on-screen life is a generic rise to fame story. Once fast-forwarding through his childhood, we catch up with him living an unfulfilled life with his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and two daughters, dreaming of something bigger and grander for his family. His attempts at success fall short. Nothing’s working out. But Barnum keeps on keeping on, and before long, he begins on an endeavor he knows the world will see as controversial. He creates what will go on to be the world’s first circus, where people of all shapes, colours and sizes are celebrated for their individuality and are allowed to get in the spotlight as opposed to hide in the shadows.
Even if you look past this misrepresentation of how history unfolded, as difficult as that may be for some people (it’s certainly worth researching Barnum’s true nature before seeing this film, for he’s done some despicable and things in his life and certainly isn’t worth celebrating as a human being), the film just isn’t good. It’s a watered down skeleton of the truth, where the plot elements that are used range between severe underdevelopment and melodramatic ridiculousness. There’s no context or pre-emphasis on any of the plot elements. Everything feels under-explained and under-plotted, to the point where I found myself questioning why some characters, especially Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle, were even in the film.
Character is never once put in the forefront. Jackman’s charm may be enough to pull you through, but as much as I love the guy, his arc (or lack thereof) was two-dimensional at best. There’s an important sub-plot between him and Rebecca Ferguson that’s necessary to the plot, but feels tacked on and lacking in chemistry. The same can be said for a love story between Zendaya and Efron, who don’t share great on-screen chemistry and never get enough screen time together for you to buy into their slowly brewing relationship. A final monologue delivered by Efron goes beyond the already established cheesy dialogue and made me physically groan in frustration.
La La Land, this is not. It’s a weird mix of modern music that tries to disguise it as a retro throwback, and the result is far from successful. The best way to experience The Greatest Showman is to listen to the soundtrack from start to finish while on your way home from work. The music is great. Heck, even the dance numbers are. It’s everything else, from the weird CGI backdrops to the intolerable story, that’s not nearly worth your time.
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