The Greatest Showman Review

Alyssa Chartrand, Writer

Australian actor Hugh Jackman, while portraying the top-hatted showman P.T. Barnum, claims that “no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.” And in this film, Director Michael Gracey chose to be different in a campaign to bring back the popularity of cinematized musicals. His 2017 original work The Greatest Showman made its debut in theaters on December 20, 2017. The movie serves as a theatrical adaptation of the life of P.T. Barnum and the Ringling Bros.-Barnum and Bailey Circus, also known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The film follows the same genre and screenplay style of Damien Chazelle’s 2016 academy award-winning romantic musical comedy-drama film La La Land. The Oscar-winning La La Land songwriters Justin Paul and Benj Pasek composed the music for The Greatest Showman, bringing to life a unique amalgam of musical theatre and pop. The film, which took roughly seven years to make, demonstrates a joyful and inspiring representation of the nineteenth-century American showman story. While original in musical score and storyboard, the life of P.T. Barnum and Jenny Lind were first dramatized in the 1930’s films The Mighty Barnum and A Lady’s Morals. Within Gracey’s adaptation, many elements of Barnum’s extraordinary life lack coverage, such as that Barnum sold his general store once his main source of income (the statewide lottery network) had been illegalized and that he did not actually start his circus until he was 60 years old. In addition, much of the film embellishes characters in a way that is not aligned with the story’s true history. Nonetheless, you might be drawn to the film’s vivacity and amiability deriving from the heartfelt and energetic songs that piece together its story.  

The Greatest Showman is an original American musical film that recounts the origin of show business in the creative mind of Phineas Taylor Barnum. The Warner Brothers film commences with a well-choreographed and immersive experience of the show and its cast in their fully-blossomed glory. Next, the story fades into the past of young Phineas (Ellis Ruben), the recently orphaned son of a tailor. He finds himself penniless, yet rich in his fascination with Charity Hallet (Skylar Dunn). After making a small earning by joining a railway construction gang, P.T. Barnum returns a few years later to wed the woman he loves. While Charity’s parents expect their daughter to leave him soon enough, Charity (Michelle Williams) and Phineas establish themselves in a modest home and welcome two daughters, Caroline (Austyn Johnson) and Helen (Cameron Seely). As years pass, Barnum longs to make his family’s world more magical. Thus, with the aid of a bank, P.T. Barnum opens the American Museum in New York, which features wax creations and stuffed animals. The museum is terribly unsuccessful. Then, one night, his daughters inspire P.T. Barnum to take to the streets and seek out odd talent from those rejected by society, such as the Bearded Lady (Keala Settle), the Dog-Faced Boy (Luciano Acuna, Jr.), The Tattooed Man (Shannon Hotlzapffel), Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), the Strong Man (Timothy Hughes), and other outcasts. Among the headline acts stars Disney-alumni Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle and Zendaya as the acrobatic Anne Wheeler. The co-stars strive to overcome the prejudices against their interracial relationship. The show turns out to be a hit in their New England town. The success of P.T. Barnum and his show makes headlines across the pond, capturing the attention of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria (Gayle Rankin) and the Swedish opera singer, often known as the “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). The subsequent acts of the film reveal the pitfalls and successes of the show and the nature of relationships.

Reviews for The Greatest Showman are divided half and half among critics. However, the film has succeeded with audiences. I am also a satisfied member of the audience. While much of the story is not historically accurate, I thoroughly enjoyed the motivational and feel-good mood that underscores the film. With the recent shutting down of the Ringling Brothers Circus after 146 years, I believe the film commemorates the purpose of the circus, which is to reveal talent that comes from anywhere, even from unexpecting backgrounds. The character of P.T. Barnum serves as an epitome of hope and the American dream, for with sufficient resources and familial support. I am impressed by the choreography that often takes place on the ledges of rooftops, trapezes, and on the circus’ stage. The characters are rich, but admittedly static. The occasional lip-sync error of performers with the pre-recorded music is bothersome. Nevertheless, the film score is extraordinary; the vocals are well-executed with crisp diction, occasional bravado, and retained audible consistency. I have not stopped listening to the album since Christmas.  

Motion Picture Association of America rates The Greatest Showman as a PG, family-friendly film. The film is composed of pleasantly trite and moral messages, such as the common idealities of following your dreams and ignoring the status quo. In my experience, the musical score appeals to all ages. If you are in the mood for a high-spirited musical of old-fashioned dreams and the engagement of illicit romance, The Greatest Showman DVD and Blue-Ray release date was released on April 10, 2018 and it was made available on Digital HD from Amazon Video and iTunes on March 20, 2018.           

Rating: 8.5/10