Is it any good?
The songs are boring pop music. The choreography, while high energy, is too modern and looks odd in context. It’s overall pretty, but the CG is overused and looks awful. The narrative lacks connective tissue and just seems to drive aimlessly to the next big musical spectacle. Hugh Jackman, despite his talent, has only been in two good movies: Logan and The Prestige. The Greatest Showman is not one of the good ones.
This is a movie musical about PT Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, and the creation of the three ring circus. It’s a light affair that doesn’t delve too deeply or examine anything too closely, but turns him into an earnest family man that just wants to do right by his wife and girls. In the B-plot we have his young protege Carlyle, played by Disney’s Zac Efron, falling in love with the black trapeze performer Anne Wheeler, played by Disney’s Zendaya. There’s a weird symmetry there. Anyway, back to it. The movie is light on conflict, extremely predictable and straightforward, and mostly inoffensive.
And maybe that’s the source of its weakness. Nothing in the movie seems to reach for anything better. Let’s start with the songs. Overall they suck. They are all in fortissimo with the performers just scream singing at the top of their range at each other. And every other song will begin or end in a whisper for the sake of dynamics. Except it isn’t dynamic at all. They all sound the same. The title song sounds like Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors,” the opera singer’s song sounds like Sia, the freaks’ song sounds like Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Except its all so much more generic than that. And they don’t all fit. There’s a big emotional “falling in love” scene with Efron and Zendaya and the song is really, really peppy. There isn’t a ballad or waltz or tender love song they could have gone with? They had to be swinging around to a Katy Perry sound-alike song? And don’t even get me started on Jenny Lind, played by Rebecca Ferguson. She was supposed to be this transcendent singer, and she just belts. And while it fits the context of the rest of the musical, it’s not even a great belt. They needed Celine Dion to justify the song’s context and construction and did NOT get it. If they could have gotten a real soprano sound it could have been interesting, but it took me completely out of the movie to see a solo singer, planted on a stage, belting pop music as she did.
I also found the dance choreography extremely distracting. Like the music, it’s informed by modern pop. So we have guys in top hats and tails and girls in ball gowns doing modern choreo. I honestly think it looks awful for the most part. The lines of modern choreography aren’t elegant or balletic. And so, it clashes.
I wouldn’t mind any of this if the movie gave me a reason to care. I can suspend my disbelief, but the movie never asks me to. The movie is completely uninterested in me as a viewer. It just wants to showcase its performers. They are great performers. But their characters are thin and the conflicts are tepid and the plot is too easy and too conventional. How did the pair behind “Dear Evan Hansen” find a way to make a musical with absolutely NO conscience or resonance? We get a token interracial romance (of course it’s a white GUY with an ethnic minority GIRL) to show how progressive Barnum was, but… it doesn’t really mean anything.
Also, where’s my stupid Fiji Mermaid? I like Barnum the charlatan. The huckster. The man’s family was the least interesting part of him. Barnum was all about the freaks and geeks. So why does this film feel the need to sanitize it all?