Although the ads feature glitz and glow, The Greatest Showman doesn’t possess enough life force to keep audiences engaged. There are no characters to root for and their problems are so mundane that the audience must wade through the brackish plot points until each new forced musical number is thrust onto the screen.
P.T. Barnum is introduced to us as a child. He has a poor father who works hard and is mistreated by society. Barnum cannot surpass his meager beginning. He was the tailor’s son and when his father dies he is basically a street rat. He longs for a bigger more important life and we know this because he sings about it in a pop ballad with painfully cliche lyrics and auto tuned vocals called A Million Dreams. The song propels from the boy Barnum to the man Barnum, now played by Hugh Jackman.
Jackman’s performance is phenomenal. He gives the role every ounce of energy and passion that he has. Unfortunately, his energy is not matched by the slowly plotting story or the energy of his cast mates. Most of the film falls flat.
After Barnum and Charity (Michelle Williams) get together he starts to gather a group of social outcasts to perform for him. The point is meant to be that he sees more in them than society does and that by giving them the opportunity to perform he is giving them a better life than they currently have, yet none of the characters are given a backstory, a love life or a realistic personality. The audience won’t remember their names.
The Greatest Showman has many flaws, but perhaps the biggest is that it focuses on the wrong plot points while telling its story. Instead of focusing on the rise and success of Barnum through his hard work and creativity, or the two terms that he served in the Connecticut legislature it takes a bypass to his relationship with opera singer Jenny Lind. The movie then squirms awkwardly through this plot point for far too long. It is insinuated that Barnum and Lind have an affair and while this is happening his wife sings a ridiculous song called Tightrope about how her life with Barnum is exciting and thrilling. Apparently she has no depth or complicated emotions about her husband traveling across country in lavish hotels with a woman whom he has shown interest in.
While some of the songs are catchy, and some scenes charming, overall this is a forgettable picture.
Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Director: Michael Gracey
Writer: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson
Runtime: 105 minutes
Release date: December 20, 2017
MPAA rating: PG