THE GREATEST SHOWMAN Review: 6 out of 10 (The Greatest Music Video on Earth)
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is an ill-advised biopic that is hidden inside a 90 minute music video. To begin to consider the historical accuracy or even the whiff of similarity to the life of P.T. Barnum here is a fool's errand. Instead, just sit back and let the music and colors wash over you. That's what the film wants to do anyhow. This is the first film directed by Michael Gracey, and it stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya. Gracey's experience comes from visual effects and commercials so it is no surprise that the film feels like an hour and a half musical advert with themes like being true to yourself and following your dreams. But if you are looking for any real story here, that is more of the smoke and mirrors part of the circus experience.
Hugh Jackman stars here at P.T. Barnum and portrays a rags-to-riches story of a man who started his own circus. Though Barnum himself has a far more interesting story, the film dips into only a few ideas of this history, primarily being that Barnum was a man who profits off of the oddities and bizarre acts he recruits into his show. The film hints at Barnum's drive for profit and his willingness to do whatever it takes to make a buck but softens any harsh penalties that his decisions cost the lives of others with a snappy number or two. To further describe any plot of the film would only require a phrase or two since there isn't much of a narrative. A good bit of the conflict of the film that is generated feels manufactured for the sake of the film. The movie hints at social issues like racism and tolerance though it is never much more than a superficial consideration.
Instead, the movie opts for music. And there is plenty of it. Rarely does the film wait more than a minute or two before starting another number that has inspirational lift, feel-good lyrics, and Up with People positive vibe. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN feels as if there is a larger movie here with a longer narrative and some unexplored subplots and minor characters. Perhaps some of that was cut for the coveted 100 minute run time, or perhaps none of it was ever intended to be explored. But outside of the lifting score, eye popping visuals (except for the awful CGI with the circus animals), and beautiful performances the movie just feels as if it is missing something. But songs like "Rewrite the Stars" with Zendaya and Efron and the lifting number of "Never Enough" are there to let the audience enjoy this film and have any concerns of story arc or plot holes melt away.
The big takeaway for me here is that the next project for director Michael Gracey is an Elton John biopic. If as much attention to music and color can be paid forward into that project, this reviewer looks forward with anticipation. As for THE GREATEST SHOWMAN , it is a harmless family friendly film with plenty of positivity and not much historical accuracy. Go for the color and the music but don't expect much more than that and you can leave with a smile on your face. A mild recommend.