Hugh Jackman returns to the musical genre in a modern, loose retelling of the story of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman. The film is set in the late 1800s and follows a rags-to-riches storyline in the guise of a true story. The early life of Phineas Taylor Barnum in the film does not resemble that of the real-life counterpart, the timeline of events is also skewed to serve the story. The film, unfortunately, doesn’t reflect the arguably more interesting true story of P.T. Barnum, that being said, when you separate the ‘source material’ from what you see on the screen, it’s still a very enjoyable film.
The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum and Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle, a fictional playwright and Barnum’s partner and protegé. The supporting cast is made up of Michelle Williams as P.T.’s wife, Charity, Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind, Zendaya as Anne Wheeler and Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz, a bearded lady. The film sports a wide range of other actors portraying some real-life and some fictional wonders and oddities. The performances in the film are top quality, there was no one that I felt phoned it in and the singing was pretty good. Admittedly, we are in a day and age now where we are spoiled by Les Miserables where ADR song tracks don’t feel as real as singing live.
Hugh Jackman is fantastic and looks and moves like a much younger man. It’s in films like this he really strives and I would love to see more of this from him. Zac Efron is not the young man we saw in High School Musical, he has become a very good actor and singer in his own right and again, I would like to see him in a few more musical roles. Zendaya is great in this film. I liked her in Spider-Man: Homecoming but this is where she really shines. While I enjoyed Michelle Williams as Charity, I thought P.T.’s daughters stole her spotlight and they definitely deserved it.
The music in the film is for a modern audience. Many of the tracks could have an electronic backing track added to them and you could find them on a top 100 chart. A lot of them have an inspirational, Calvin Harris-y vibe with constant references to dreams and stars and stuff. While you can tell they tried to add complexity to the songs, a lot of them felt very generic and samey. The performances of the songs were also very modern with choreography that did not match the time or the period costume. The stand out performance for me was Zac Efron and Zendaya’s performance of ‘Rewrite the Stars’ that featured the two actors in an empty stage with rope work and it felt like it fit. It’s a stark contrast to the opening and the closing performances of ‘The Greatest Show’ (which is an ultra-contemporary number) where there are numerous examples of unreal CGI and a ridiculous amount of people doing everything littering the screen.
For all it’s problems, The Greatest Showman is an entertaining movie. It features a simple plot and modern music which should appeal to a wide audience. It’s far from the ‘greatest show’ it claims to be. It’s also not a very good story of P.T. Barnum, the film takes a lot of liberties and really just uses the elements of his story that serves the film’s story. It could be seen as the version P.T. Barnum would tell, a fantastic version of real-life events. But his life was much more interesting.
The Greatest Showman: Average