Release Date: December 20, 2017
Running Time: 2 h 19 min
Director: Michael Gracey
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle
Composer(s): Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
(read my review of the movie’s original soundtrack here!)
(just a quick note: my friends and i went to see this together on the 20th and we were slightly late, so this review does not include the first like 5-10 minutes of the movie–whoops)
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. After seeing it, I only had a few issues, but was able to overlook them in favor of the good moments. However, after having a few days to think about it (and read other reviews and articles about it), more problems have come to my attention.
There are so many things this movie does well: the set/costume design, the soundtrack, the choreography, and most of the plot (more on that later). The music is very well done, and the numbers themselves were well put together. The cast does an amazing job (special shoutouts to Keala Settle (Lettie aka the Bearded Lady), Zendaya (acrobat Anne Wheeler), and Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely (Caroline and Helen Barnum)), and it’s obvious a lot of hard work was put into this film. One of the biggest issues with this movie is how it only focuses on Barnum (and relies on Hugh Jackman’s talent and charisma for almost the entire two hours), which should make since, since he is the protagonist and it is his circus, but he was definitely the least interesting character. The members of the show are much easier to relate to and focus on, since they are built better, even though they are given significantly less time. From watching the trailers and sneak peeks before going to the theater, it seemed as though the movie would focus more on the so-called “oddities” (and there was little to no mention of Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) who turned out to have a large role). Every moment that showed the family that Barnum brought together was fun a bright, even when things were dark for the story. My favorite storyline by far was that of Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) and Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). Anne and her brother WD are acrobats for the show, while Phillip is a member of New York high society who is recruited by Barnum and becomes a partner. Their budding relationship struggles as they attempt to navigate being an interracial couple in the 1800s, and the story is really well done. The most disappointing thing is how little time they actually get on screen compared to that of Barnum and Jenny Lind (which was inaccurately shown according to this Vanity Fair article). Long story short: there wasn’t enough of what the movie does well to outshine what it does wrong.
The music is amazing and beautiful, and you can read more about it here. (I love the soundtrack so much–I just have to think about other things than the plot that surrounds the songs)
The entire movie seems to just be big moments. It skims or skips over the quiet, important moments in favor of grand gestures and musical numbers. Obviously, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his wife, Charity’s (Michelle Williams) storyline was the central one, but it was repetitive and Michelle Williams’ role seemed to only involve spinning in floaty skirts, taking care of their two daughters, and watching from the sidelines while her husband made questionable business choices and/or strained their relationship. It was a relief when the plot changed and focused on other characters, which is something there should have been more of. Each of the members of the show were poorly developed even though there were so many opportunities to give them more, and most were only showed during the large group numbers, instead of showing more of the sense of community expected. Once again, this seemed to only be there for the big speeches about family and believing in yourself. While the movie is titled The Greatest Showman, that’s all it (and the main character) seems to focus on. Barnum is definitely a flawed character, so it’s hard to connect with him in any way as he uses people over and over again to make money and gain fame. It was a relief when the camera finally focused on someone else, even if it was just for a short time. The storyline of Anne Wheeler and Phillip Carlyle was grossly overlooked in the sense that there was little focus on their story, which was interesting enough for its own movie (in my opinion). (I may be alone on this, but I would rather have more of the interracial couple than watching Barnum lowkey abandon his family and then have them immediately forgive him.) One the topic of racism, the movie seems to skip over all of the bad things P.T. Barnum did (racism, slavery, racial profiling, and the circus’ famous role in the mistreatment of animals) for the ability to be a PG holiday-release musical for the whole family.
Final Thoughts: If I don’t think to hard about this movie, I liked it. But if I look at it too closely, it falls apart immediately. I wanted to like this so much going in, but the longer I think about it, the more new things I don’t like (I should stop thinking about it). The central conflicts (Jenny Lind, money, Anne and Phillip’s struggle to be together, Barnum treating his employees horribly) were all glossed over and resolved with a song or a quick resolution, so the end was extremely unsatisfying. So if you want to watch a movie with catchy songs and great performances and can leave the theater not thinking too hard about the actual plot, this is a great one. (Also, keep an eye out for my petition for Fox to make an entire movie with Zac Efron and Zendaya about Anne Wheeler and Phillip Carlyle)