Contemporary Review / Review

The Greatest Showman

by Alistair Bennie Underwood

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The Greatest Showman, released December 2017 and starring Hugh Jackman, is about P.T Barnum as he makes his way from a low level office drone to the crust of upper society through accumulating atrocious levels of wealth from his circus. It all comes crashing down around his ears once he allows the need to appease the high brow audiences and critics get in the way of bringing joy to people and caring about his family.

It is influenced by the real life of the showman and freakshow founder ’s real life, with clear and drastic alterations to appeal to a wider audience. Such as dropping the fact that the real Barnum owned an elderly slave woman or how General Tom Thumb was a five year old cousin of his who he taught to smoke and drink. Also, years and decades are all condensed into a few months  to make the ending point all the more important.

The movie is very fast paced. With a runtime of one hundred and five minutes everything feels a little rushed. If not rushed, everything feels not entirely fleshed. Beginning with Barnum’s childhood, we receive maybe two minutes to see him living in poverty, meeting his future wife, his father getting sick, his father’s death, and then a young Barnum living on the streets like an urchin. You need to will yourself not to blink or else all of these seemingly important details will be missed. The movie forces you to watch with wide eyes because you are buffeted by all of this information. Each and every piece feels necessary or else it wouldn’t be a driving part of its own story.

With romances blooming between a few secondary characters that could have been explored a little better and the freaks from Barnum’s circus being brushed aside they almost instantly forgive him and take him back once he has hit his lowest state.

It is a shame that all of this happens very rapidly because a few more minutes in certain scenes to allow the romance to blossom, or of even having the freaks interacting with each other more. We get to see how they react to the public, and we get to see them having very meaningful moments with Barnum, but not as many important or emotional sequences with their fellow performers. Which would have given the movie a stronger character center.

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The message is a little cliche as well. You have probably heard it in some form or another; ambition is evil, love your family, make people smile, and ignore those high society snobs that are going to laugh at you anyway because you are fabulous then they will ever be. It has been shown a thousand times before but it is shown here in a very nice way. It isn’t an unpleasant message to sit through; take pride in your differences because they make you unique.  Although problems could arise from some of the freak performances. However, there is so much energy and emotion from the cast that you feel yourself drawn into the message anyways.

That is one of the movie’s saving graces. It is phenomenally well acted. Every actor seems perfect for their character and is bringing one hundred percent to the role. It is almost exhausting watching them because they never seem to take a break between scenes. They are almost always on and it is fascinating to watch.

A second saving grace would definitely have to be the songs. They are catchy, jazzy, and poppy. They all stick with you, especially the opening number. They are sweet and loud and have very good beats. The camera hardly stops moving during the entire song and you are drawn right into the choreography.  There are many lovely moments of metaphor that are a little heavy handed but they come at the most appropriate times, such as Barnum looking out his office building window and spotting a graveyard perfectly lined up with other office buildings. Heavy handed? Certainly. But also very well shot and very well acted so you can forgive it.

The problem, of course, comes right back down to the pace of the movie. It is so rapid that you find yourself exhausted  and are assaured the entire time that it is great, amazing, and phenomenal. But then a character is dropped or a major scene that should have happened is merely brushed away, unexpectedly.

If it had just taken things a little slower, with a few more scenes, the movie would probably have turned from good into great. The plot is cliche but good, the acting is wonderful and the songs are catchy and fun. However, there is a strong message that is a little muddled if you think about it too long. So, my suggestion is to just sit back and enjoy it. There is nothing exactly wrong with it, but it all feels very artificial. Like cotton candy, The Greatest Showman will fill you up and taste amazing as it goes down, but you will still be craving something with a bit more bite to it afterwards.

2 out of 5 stars

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