Hugh Jackman has said that “The Greatest Showman” is his passion project. Watching this movie, it’s very apparent which parts of this project he’s actually passionate about. And it’s definitely not the story which is insincere, the screenplay which is lazily scribbled with a box of Hello Kitty crayons, or the characters that are virtually nonexistent. You know things aren’t great when you walk into a movie that is supposedly about P. T. Barnum, the man who invented show business, and walk out learning absolutely nothing about P.T Barnum and show business.
In real life, P. T. Barnum was a con man — a hustler who would exploit anybody who looks different by putting them on a stage and making a buck off them. He is the man who coined the phrase, “there’s a sucker born every minute.” In this fairy tale edition, P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is a great man and a liberator. One who gives outcasts and unique people a home. But, it would be unfair of me to fault Michael Gracey’s “The Greatest Showman” for that. After all, “The Greatest Showman” isn’t trying to be an accurate biopic. This movie plays like a fairy tale and that’s okay.
But even in a fairy tale as simple as “Cinderella”, there is a well put together character arc. Not here. Here P. T. Barnum is a great man because he is Hugh Jackman and Hugh Jackman has a charming smile. The bearded lady is just a bearded lady. The dwarf is nothing but a dwarf. If the point was for us to feel for these people, understand them and see them as wholesome individuals with colourful personalities, Jenny Bicks’ and Bill Condon’s screenplay does a crappy job.
Every conflict that takes place in this movie gets resolved within a couple of minutes. We see Charity, who comes from a very affluent family fall in love with Barnum, a man who has less than a penny to his name. The film sets up a conflict between Barnum and Charity’s dad, but the conflict isn’t explored and Charity’s dad simply allows her to marry Barnum. Later, when Barnum and Charity have a fallout, it is resolved before we’re allowed to emote.
We’re led to believe that it’s going to be difficult for Barnum to be successful, but one song later, he’s swimming in money, living in a mansion. It’s obvious, Michael Gracey doesn’t care about his characters’ journey. He’s just eager to get to the next song. And frankly, so are we.
Despite the middling screenplay, “The Greatest Showman” is enjoyable. And it’s mostly because of the INCREDIBLE songs. One song in particular titled, “Never Enough” (sung by Loren Allred; lipsync Rebecca Ferguson) is so bloody incredible, it makes “Let it Go” and “How Far I’ll Go” seem like they’re sung by the bastard child of William Hung and Piko Taro. It would be shocking if “Never Enough” doesn’t get an Oscar nomination and go on to WIN IT. In fact, I would go as far as to say it’s the best music album of the year. But don’t quote me on that; I don’t listen to nearly as much music as I watch movies.
And it’s not just how these songs sound, but the production design and choreography is excellent as well. These are easily some of the best musical set pieces of all time. Many of the songs made me tear up, all of them gave me goosebumps, particularly “The Greatest Show”.
The performances in this movie are excellent all around too. The actors do more for the movie than the movie does for them. Hugh Jackman is one of the most charismatic actors working today. He’s great as Wolverine, but it is here that he’s truly in his comfort zone and you can see it. Despite having to work with a depthless script, P. T. Barnum shines throughout. The same can be said about Michelle Williams who makes the just-a-housewife-love-interest character, Charity, something more wholesome and engaging. Zac Efron does a fine job too and so does the bearded lady played by Lettie Lutz.
And amidst the Jackmans and the Williams and the Efrons, is the 21-year-old Zendaya who we previously saw in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. Good God is this girl a SUPERSTAR in the making. Here she plays a Trapeze artist who falls in love with Zac Efron’s Phillip Carlyle in what could have been a throwaway subplot. But Zendaya’s overflowing charisma, confidence, and gravitas will keep your eyes glued to the screen.
The beauty of Musicals lies in its ability to tell a story through song. Take Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” for instance. While the songs may not always be perfectly sung and the dance numbers aren’t necessarily flawless in terms of synchronization, they feel raw, sincere and purposeful. When characters burst into song, the movie isn’t put on pause. The songs are part of the narrative; the songs add layers to the already well-written characters. “The Greatest Showman” on the other hand isn’t even a movie. It is a bunch of music videos strung together by random scribbles masquerading itself as a story. But hell, I’ll be lying if I say these aren’t f**king amazing music videos.
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