Heavy With Style, Light With Substance: Our Review of ‘The Greatest Showman’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - December 20, 2017
Heavy With Style, Light With Substance: Our Review of ‘The Greatest Showman’

Innovation and creativity are wonderful things and dreams are important, but never at the expense of proper manners…

The Greatest Showman is an effective enough effort in the realm of musical theatre but it glosses over a few too many historical bits about its subject and tries a little too hard to not only be likeable but also be a showcase for its leading man.

Inspired by the ambition and imagination of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), The Greatest Showman tells the story of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a mesmerizing spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

It’s a little weird to make a musical about a character that isn’t all that likeable…but that being said The Greatest Showman does succeed in getting a pass thanks to some stronger and slick visual staging and Jackman who even while trying a little too hard sometimes is just so damn compelling that you just don’t want to stop watching him.

In his very first feature effort, director Michael Gracey puts a solid visual on the screen and stays with his strengths from his visual effects background in making a big, bright and loud affair that certainly won’t let you drift off or lose any focus with anything that happens on screen.  The script from Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon (the latter of whom is no stranger to musicals given his work on Dreamgirls & Chicago) is decent but flighty and never really grounds itself in anything that feel s remotely real.  It’s a fun affair with quality songs from the team behind La La Land but there isn’t a split second of actual emotional stakes in the entire thing.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it does diminish the entire experience as a whole since it looks flashy but really signifies nothing while very obviously positioning itself as a showcase for its leading man.

Sure in reality P.T. Barnum was actually a bit of a son of a bitch but with Jackman’s winning smile and magnetic personality we gloss over his character defects far too easily in favour of yet another flashy musical number.  He carries the film with such ease that we’ve actually come to not more or less expect it from him but it is nice to see him in his element of musical theatre that he started in so many years ago.  He’s fun to be sure, but it’s flawed as it really feels like we need to dislike him more because even when he is alienating all of his friends, loved ones and the stars of his very show, we still kind of want to have a drink with him.

The genuine revelation out of all this is actually Zac Efron as junior business partner Philip Carlyle who is getting more and more traction as he fully transitions himself out of not only Disney TV shows but YA romances and raunchy comedies into a well rounded performer and actor who can carry the screen and actually make us care about the conflicts and problems in his life as finds himself falling in love with Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) during a time when it’s just not appropriate to do that sort of thing.  Efron’s story arc is actually more compelling then Jackman’s as he is the positive light at the end of the tunnel with everything that unfolds.  Michelle Williams doesn’t get much to work with while Rebecca Ferguson gets dubbed in for singing parts and only has a very one dimensional character to work with as she slowly dominates and ultimately screws up the very delicate world that Jackman’s Barnum has built around himself.

Ultimately, the question that anyone has to ask themselves is will The Greatest Showman end up being a vital part of the canon of musical in cinema…and the answer is probably not but it’s shiny and entertaining enough with some catchy enough tunes to make us over look any of its genuine faults.

This post was written by
David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.