After seven years, The Greatest Showman just made it’s box office debut with a star studded cast and flashy cinematography. Marking the directing debut of Michael Gracey, the trailer looked all but disappointing as audiences are promised the flashiness of Barnum and Bailey circus on the silver screen. High expectations were imposed with big names like Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, and Zac Efron, a heavy hearted soundtrack to pull at heartstrings, and visuals that awe- but just how great is The Greatest Showman?
For starters, the movie follows the come up story of P.T Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Bailey Greatest Show on Earth, who later merged with the Ringling Brothers to create Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus. For one hundred and forty six years, the circus traveled and was continuously referred to as “the greatest show on earth” until it’s closing on May 21st, 2017.
One thing to note about the film is the number of big names sharing the screen. Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, and Hugh Jackman as P.T Barnum himself all come together to celebrate the making of one of the biggest icons in entertainment history, the late Barnum and Bailey Circus- of course this story focuses on the Barnum. While a good cast is not always a good indicator of how good a movie will be, and I have been victim of assuming such in the past, I had been well acquainted with the actor’s works in the past to know they always choose responsibly in the projects which they are present. That being said, I was not disappointed.
Each actor painted a vivid picture to the parts they portrayed. Without spoilers, Michelle Williams as Charity Barnum portrayed the supportive yet independent wife beautifully, Efron the proper rich boy who wants something more (even if he doesn’t necessarily see it at first), Zendaya the equally as independent and heavily skilled trapeze artist, and Jackman as the dreaming and flawed P.T Barnum. It should come as no surprise that each actor did remarkably well with their piece to the puzzle, there is a reason that they are big names in the industry: hard work, and hard preparation, including Jackman reading “soe three dozen” books on P.T Barnum, and Zendaya’s trapeze training. It shows their dedication, and worked to make the film the work of art their is.
With the bigger names we are also introduced to Keala Settle who lends her voice to the trailer’s golden globe nominated song, This is Me. While Settle has only three film roles under her belt (including The Greatest Showman), she has lended her big voice and bigger expression to the character of Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady. There was not nearly enough of her in the picture, but due to such exposure as the film is getting, I see bright things in her future as an actress and look forward to seeing her career grow, and I wish her the best of luck- not that she needs it, of course.
The cast also worked to shape a beautiful and cohesive sound to the film with songs written by the familiar John Paul and Ben Pasek, famous for the La La Land soundtrack as well as composing songs for Broadway’s Dear Evan Hanson.
As someone who was not fond of the showtune and cheesy soundtrack of La La Land, I was skeptical seeing their names on the poster, but later pleasantly surprised. Only to be experienced, the soundtrack is a beautifully composed group of music which fits each vocalist, style, and personality to set the proper mood for each scene. I now give Paul and Pasek the respect they deserve for presenting me with a soundtrack that literally made me tear up, and still does.
The film is also the debut of Michael Gracey as director, however he is been in the film industry for twenty years as an animator, digital compositor, and visual effects supervisor (this one doesn’t surprise me). The style, Gracey claimed, mirrors that of “West Side Story (1961), Mary Poppins (1964), and The Sound of Music (1965)”, but one could compare his style to more that of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! with a sprinkle of Tim Burton’s Big Fish.
Visually, the film is beautiful, colorful, and exciting much like the Barnum circus itself. With beautiful usage of light, and a gorgeous opening scene which introduces audiences to the title character’s life and starts from scratch, if Gracey continues on with directing, that will be his trademark much like Luhrmann and Burton before him. If you like Baz Lurhmann's style ( Moulin Rouge! in particular), you may find The Greatest Showman remarkably similar with certain scenes like dancing on the roof, or songs like Never Enough (and it's MR counterpart, One Day I'll Fly Away). He has an eye for color and manipulating space and doing the most with little time at an hour and forty five minutes.
This is where the pitfall comes.
The movie is visually pleasing, the soundtrack is moving and inspiring, the acting is phenomenally done- however the story telling lacks in skeletal structure. When I had arrived at the theater, curiosity struck me and I checked the runtime to see it had only one hundred-five minutes on the clock. But how? With such a story like Barnum!
The story was choppy in some places and editing could have been better had the scenes not been cut short. Minor spoiler warning: There is a scene in which Philip is unconscious on the hospital bed, and Anne is sitting by his side with his hand in her’s. She sings a snippet of Rewrite the Stars, and then it cuts abruptly to the next scene with Barnum and Charity.Scenes like this are cut short, and does not allow for the audience to see real acting skill and emotion from the stars.
Not only this, but with so much talent in the film, I would like to redirect your attention to a few paragraphs above in which I talked about the star’s. Note how short it is. This is because in the film, there is very little to base their characters off of. We do see Zendaya’s trapeze abilities, and singing abilities, as well as a small bout of emotion when Philip’s parents refer to Anne as “the help”, but not much else. We know very little about the characters who we root for, and yet we root for them because of their underdog story which is presented beautifully before us- much like socks wrapped in red and gold.
I still adored the movie, it was entertaining, and pulled on heartstrings and was a well done movie, however the story only scrapes the surface, and I only wish that we may have gottan a story from Lettie, or how Anne and her twin (who does not have many lines in the movie whatsoever) had gotten interested in the trapeze art. It was only an hour and forty five minutes, there was certainly time to spare telling their stories. The film was beautifully executed, however lacked the substance that could have been given. It was a story about home, and ambition, and staying true to oneself. The soundtrack is flawless, all it needed was the extra nudge magic to do the story of Barnum justice.
As of the release date, The Greatest Showman has one Heartland Film 2017’s Best Moving Picture award, and holds three Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Best Original Song for This is Mean performed by Keala Settle, and Best Performance by Lead Actor.