Review by Josh Teggert
Accompanied by his band of “unique individuals”, P.T. Barnum aims to build a means of entertainment that could encompass anyone of any background. He showcases anyone with any talent, with a hint of exaggeration here and there, and indirectly invents ‘show business’ as a consequence. Barnum’s hypnotic charm is now accessible again through Hugh Jackman’s stunning display in The Greatest Showman, which, as a show in itself, fails to truly live up to its name.
That doesn’t mean it falls short everywhere though; there are indeed some pulse-racing sequences, a couple of catchy songs (not as many as other notable modern musicals) and the music scenes are frequently very smartly constructed. As mentioned, Jackman’s performance is one of his most inspired; he is a constant delight to watch and it is easy to see how much fun everyone had whilst filming. There are also moments that allow the likes of Zac Efron to shine as Phillip Carlyle, in his first musical outing in a decade. Other notable performances include Keala Seattle as Lettie Lutz and Rebecca Ferguson who nails the character of Jenny Lind.
However, The Greatest Showman’s biggest flaw is its exceedingly rushed narrative. The story speeds along like a train, leaving absolutely no time to gain a comprehensible appreciation of Barnum’s raw determination, or relate to many of the characters. This results in an often-uncomfortable viewing sensation, and at 1 hour 45 minutes runtime (including credits), one can’t help but feel this would have benefitted hugely from even just half an hour more.
The generally off-putting CGI – which was supposedly inserted to provide a more accurate depiction of the extraordinary events – adds to this inconsistent experience. Naturally, health and safety would’ve prevented an *actual* elephant walking the streets of downtown Manhattan, but the scenes inside the circus are bombarded with special effects and impossible camera angles, reducing the film to what feels like a series of distractions. Too much is going on to appreciate the overall spectacle, making it hard at times to focus one’s attention, unless prompted by Barnum. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the scale of Barnum’s achievement and ambition, but that notion doesn’t translate as well onto the screen as one may have hoped.
Yet when first-time Director Michael Gracey takes the approach of less-is-more, the product is much more relatable. The Greatest Showman is unquestionably at its best during the bar sequences, with glasses being hit on the table perfectly in sync with the music (cue Baby Driver flashbacks) and no overly convoluted visual effects. One can’t help but feel enamoured by Ashley Allen, Mathieu Leopold and Jenny Griffin’s choreography. It is at these moments that the viewer can truly appreciate the filmmaker’s commitment to pure entertainment, and this is one of the most prominent feelings that I felt walking out of the cinema.
It certainly isn’t the greatest show you’ll ever see, but it is fun enough to make it worth the watch for a bit of light entertainment.