To be honest I’d already seen The Greatest Showman in the sense that every time I went to a shopping centre, public place or website, there it was. Either playing that one fucking song on a loop or some shitty poster to grimace at. So going into this movie you could say I wasn’t looking forward to it, I’d written it off as modern musical nonsense for a group that hailed Split as the greatest movie of all time. A negative stigma I myself had created against two films that I ended up really enjoying.
For me the selling point of this movie was the incredibly talented Hugh Jackman. He’s superb to watch whatever he’s in, and for the most part his role as P.T. Barnum was very enjoyable. Nowhere near his best work of course, but a sure fire hit with audiences around the world, and rightly so. Jackman has some great acting chops and a superb singing voice, he proved that in the as good Les Miserables all those years ago. He’s a great talent and it’s nice to see him coming into projects such as this rather frequently now that he’s finished his stint as the Wolverine.
What always impresses me about a movie of this scale is how amazing they look. From a cinematography standpoint, the movie is gorgeous. Vivid colours reimagining what a great spectacle the circus of freaks would be. All held together by the superb direction of Michael Gracey. It’s no surprise Gracey has a keen eye for detail, especially since he’s been a responsible digital artist working on a number of films over the course of the 21st century. It’s nice to see him take a larger position on a much bigger movie, even if that’s just so we can get some visually stunning setpieces with an otherwise boring story.
Although Gracey has a great eye for these cinematic epics when the tunes are on, he struggles with some very basic shots, which is a great shame. There’s a panning shot over an industrialised city early on in the movie and it just looks quite shoddy if anything else. He has more problems than shoddy panning shots too, for the most part the film is very static in its direction. Aside from the energy going into the musical numbers, it’s more or less the expected formula of a biopic. Hell I’d probably criticise it a lot more if it weren’t for that amazing bar choreography with Jackman and Zac Efron.
Yes, that’s a big selling point of this film en masse, Zac Efron from the High School Musical trilogy is also in this movie. Surprisingly, I’m actually quite enthralled by his performances. He’s pretty good in Bad Neighbours and Bad Grandpa so I had no problems with Efron being cast in such a prominent role, especially since he’s actually pretty good. Zendaya and the rest of the cast are solid as well, I just wish they had something more to do than be background scenery for Barnum’s story, which is barely told.
Biopics are a niche genre that I do enjoy somewhat, but it comes as no surprise that I’m interested in some more than I am in others. For instance, the story of how P.T. Barnum founded his circus, doesn’t really interest me. But then again it doesn’t exactly try and tell that story whatsoever. I’m a firm believer that a biopic cannot tell a story when it has musical numbers, and to be honest I was pretty right. There’s a lot of depth to the actual story of P.T. Barnum and it’s a shame the movie does nothing to really capture such a story. That’s not to say the film doesn’t give him ample screentime though. When we are given some time to explore this character, there’s a nice surface level of detail to it, however hashed out and ushered out of the door it may feel. It just feels like padding before we get to the next song.
My great fear of musicals comes from La La Land, which is possibly one of the dullest and resounding piles of shit I’ve seen in a long while. I was more or less expecting the same thing from The Greatest Showman, but that isn’t what I received. Still the most important part for a movie like this is that the soundtrack is enjoyable to some degree. Luckily, it is. It’s a very solid soundtrack performed by some very talented individuals. Thankfully the main song of the movie isn’t repeated in great succession like Chazelle’s La La Land put me through, so that was a nice break from an otherwise repetitive norm.
I don’t have any favourites in regard to the soundtrack though, it really didn’t have any musical pieces that would be either my taste of music or enjoyable enough to remember the name of. They do however serve the movie well at times, given that it does have some enjoyable moments to it, they’re not there for the sake of being there and add to the movie as much as they can.
As time has gone on, I’ve realised there are only two genres of film I subconsciously avoid. Musicals and horrors. I suppose I’m glad I watched The Greatest Showman, given that it was serviceable in being an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Forgettable? Absolutely. But not as terrible as I was expecting, rather enjoyable to a weird degree, made even better by some strong performances and a handful of enjoyable musical numbers.
Still, I feel as if there’s more to the story of P.T. Barnum, especially since this movie glosses over pretty much anything it presents to the camera. Maybe a straight biopic, rather than a musical, would be a better approach to someone after the facts. But for those hoping to capture the magic of the circus, I suppose this does a solid enough job. It beats leaving the house anyway.