Michael Gracey’s directorial debut in The Greatest Showman (2017) is a strong one with Hugh Jackman at the helm. There is a clear production design that looks fake at times, which seems to be in line with P.T. Barnum’s philosophy of real or fake, it’s all about the show and the joy it brings. The film manages to convey a sense of optimism and hopefulness, even in the most downtrodden moments in the film. Sure, sometimes those optimistic moments come in some Hallmark-style dialogue, but the delivery by the performers as well as the overall tone of the film makes even the cringier lines forgivable.
The Greatest Showman is a musical marvel that hits the optimism hard.
The film depicts P.T. Barnum (Jackman) attempting to rise to a new station in life after winning the heart of his childhood love Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams) and having two children. What begins as a wax museum develops into a collection of living oddities and acts that begins to attract both positive and negative attention, but gives Barnum everything he’s been dreaming of. The film doesn’t paint him as a pure altruist or even as a good man at times. The film does contain lots of joy and pushes the themes of chasing one’s dreams, the value of family, and finding comfort in oneself.
The music in the film is great. Jackman and Efron, who plays Phillip Carlyle, have a number that was extremely fun and showcases both of their vocals and choreography. It’s not a dance number exactly, but the synchronized movements around a bar and a bartender (I’m not sure who the actor was, but he deserves a mention as he helps make the scene) definitely make it impressive. Not to mention it’s a scene that is a negotiation as Barnum is trying to pull in the upper-class Carlyle in an effort to bring an air of notoriety to his circus. Then there is the freak’s anthem, This is Me, led by Keala Settle playing Lettie Lutz the bearded woman, that is intensely inspirational for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. Settle’s voice is a powerhouse and the dance number that follows is visually engaging.
It takes more than music to make this film work
The music continues to impress and stick, but it’s ultimately the earnest performances that sell the story and tone of the film. Williams and the two Barnum children played by Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely are great in their roles as Jackman’s character finds success. They are a constant pushing of the idea of family as are the various members of the circus. Efron and Zendaya, who plays the trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, have a secondary love story with a rising tension centered around their interracial relationship and what that would mean at the time. All of the members of the circus live in some form of shame or isolation prior to their joining P.T. Barnum and the lessons they offer really hit home the idea of family and finding comfort with one’s self-worth.
Gracey’s main credits involve visual effects and that is definitely evident in this film. The colors are vibrant, the sets are a mix of old school and new production with what appears to be painted backdrops on sound stages at times, and the costumes are gorgeous with some of the make-up calling attention to itself, possibly by design as mentioned earlier. There is some creative editing and cinematography in the film as montages are used time and time again to progress the story as the cast sings the various songs. It’s kinetic and hectic but really keeps the audience engaged, but possibly overwhelmed.
There has been a trend of late with family-centric films working for me. My daughter is getting older and my appreciation of our family is growing with her age and my own. Musicals are apparently more my speed now then they were before I started Berk Reviews as well. Then there is this desire to find hope anywhere I can in a world that is constantly reminding me of how hopeless life can be. Thus, my review may be tainted by these hopeful-family lenses that I watched this movie through. While I see there are imperfections, there were none that stopped my enjoyment. Thus, The Greatest Showman earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.