Released December 20, 2017
Rated PG (Thematic Elements, Brief Violence)
1 hr. 45 min.
Directed by Michael Gracey
Written by Jenny Bicks (What a Girl Wants, Sex and the City) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Beauty and the Beast)
Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey (Nocturnal Animals, The Accountant)
Songs by Benj Pasek (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen) and Justin Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen)
Music by John Debney (The Emperor’s New Groove, The Jungle Book) and Joseph Trapanese (Straight Outta Compton, Only the Brave)
Edited by Tom Cross (Whiplash, La La Land), Robert Duffy (Unstoppable, Mirror Mirror), Joe Hutshing (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous), Michael McCusker (Walk the Line, Logan), Jon Poll (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Meet the Parents), and Spencer Susser (Hesher, Shiny)
Produced by Peter Chernin (Spy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Laurence Mark (I, Robot; Last Vegas), and Jenno Topping (The Heat, Hidden Figures)
Starring Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Logan), Zac Efron (High School Musical, Neighbors), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, Manchester by the Sea), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Life), Zendaya (Shake It Up, Spider-Man: Homecoming), Keala Settle (The Big C, Ricki and the Flash), and Sam Humphrey (Neighbours, Jeremy the Dud)
The Greatest Showman proves Hugh Jackman is easily one of the greatest entertainers of our time. He’s charming, endlessly entertaining to watch, and can seemingly do anything in show business. One day, his ability will decline, I’m sure, but for now his talents only seem to increase with age. Don’t dismiss or overlook this musical venture, a passion project of Hugh Jackman’s to which he had been attached for eight years before it finally released. Interestingly, it’s also the second sort of passion project from Jackman in 2017, the first being Logan.
When my wife and I visited our local cinema to see The Greatest Showman for the third time (I more or less got dragged along time two and three, I contend), we sat in a crowded theater of happy people. A whole row of teenagers were in front of us, but they weren’t texting or otherwise disturbing the peace. No, they had taken a break from doing whatever millennial things they supposedly do (you know, munching on Tide pods and such), taken their allowances or whatever it is they call it, and spent them on this movie; they were soaking it in. Surrounding us and them were many middle-aged, and older, couples, also having fun, each and every one. To our left, a mother and her middle-school daughter had smiles planted firmly on their faces. To our right sat our friend, seeing the movie for the fourth time, even though she rarely visits the movie theater. Afterward, outside the theater, I heard two elderly gentleman who didn’t know each other, only bound by the act of waiting on their wives, talking. “Were you just watching Greatest Showman?” one asked the other. “Yeah,” the second replied, “that there’s a good little movie.”
Now that’s what I call a theatrical experience.
I think the critics, the ones looking down their noses at this movie (and most of the critics I follow either disliked it or thought it was just average) are wrong on this one. I’m not saying their opinions are wrong. Art is subjective and any opinion on art formed by a reasonably open mind is valid. I’m saying they were, or are, wrong to dismiss this movie so quickly. With very little hype or critic backing, and with little initial fanfare, The Greatest Showman is becoming a huge hit, almost solely from positive word of mouth. People I know who don’t even go to movie theaters have seen The Greatest Showman multiple times, which has become rare these days, especially among the people I know. The Greatest Showman may have what it takes to be a classic one day.
Could it have used a bit more weight in its story to better back up the glamor and show? Could it have used a bit less obvious production on the songs? Does it completely rewrite the history of its real characters? Does it have a slight problem of feeling like the pacing hits a dead stop when the song comes on? Do the songs too often actually dictate the plot? Do a couple of the songs lack? Is Gracey an inexperienced, sometimes confidence-lacking director? Does the movie have some timeline inconsistencies, both with history and with the movie’s own timeline? Is the story formulaic and cliché? Is the character development fairly weak? Do the current pop sounds of the songs clash oddly with the movie’s time period?
Yes, guilty on all counts. But that doesn’t distract from the fun and joy this movie offers its audiences. In addition, all the songs except for one or two are fantastic, for what they’re trying to be, and the movie features excellent, infectious, energetic performances from known actors Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya, and Michelle Williams while also featuring breakout performances from Keala Settle and Sam Humphrey. The film is also photographed decently; boasts a high production quality; features good effects, costuming, and set design; is paced in a way that won’t leave you bored; and the song-and-dance numbers are magnificent as a whole.
In addition, The Greatest Showman portrays family in a highly positive light, and this is a good movie for families to attend. It even has a story at its heart that, though simplistic and inconsistent, resonates with people. Especially resonant with me, Barnum has an ever-present desire to give his family a better life and pull himself above and beyond his current social stature. Plus, the plot actually treats its themes about the value of outsiders and outcasts in a tender way without being heavy-handed or overly ridiculous, though it’s certainly not nuanced either.
I guess, though, cynics need not try it. Or, hey, even they might find themselves dazzled and won over.
This isn’t a normal review, but since we give grades around here, I’m going to give The Greatest Showman a 70%.