Hugh Jackman takes on the role of P.T Barnum, the founder of the modern circus, in his latest movie ‘The Greatest Showman’. The biographical musical tells the rags to riches story of Barnum and how he went from a poor Connecticut boy to the owner of a circus in New York.
The beginning of the movie introduces us to Barnum as a young boy where he meets and falls in love with his future-wife, Charity, an upper class girl who Barnum’s father works for. The movie shows us their journey of building a family together, as they end up having two daughters. Barnum’s desire to give his daughters something more than the tiny two-bedroom apartment they’re currently living in is what inspires him to go on the quest to create something magnificent and new. We’re shown his failure with his first endeavor, a wax-figure museum which ultimately doesn’t make any money. Barnum then goes off to find ‘oddities’ and ‘unique individuals’ such as conjoined twins, a bearded lady and a giant.
The film is accompanied with pop-y ballads as well as fun and crisp choreography which make it visually, beautiful to watch. However, the film lacks in character development and substance. We’re shown during a few short scenes that the success of Barnum’s circus causes some controversy and sparks protest. Although, the movie doesn’t dive into that aspect of Barnum’s journey at all, which arguably could’ve been the most interesting plot point. This was a recurring issue for me while watching the movie, there are so many ‘risks’ they could’ve took or characters they could’ve explored deeper which would’ve turned this from a fun, but unforgettable, family movie to a truly moving piece of art.
The film does a terrible job at making the audience actually care about the characters, such as the bearded lady and the other ‘oddities’ at the circus. They had no character arc, almost no backstory, when they were arguably the most fascinating characters. This just leaves dozens of characters as one-dimensional faces. The movie’s main theme is expressed in it’s recurring anthem ‘This is me” , sang by the wonderfully talented bearded lady, played by Keala Settle. This is a feel-good movie about being yourself and accepting people of all walks of life, however it completely erases how P.T Barnum repeatedly took advantage of African American performers at his circus.
The movie does slightly touch on the racial aspect during a very short scene with Zac Efron and Zendaya, who gave some of the best performances in the movie. Efron, who plays a New York socialite to ends up joining the circus and Zendaya, who plays a trapeze artist at the circus fall in love over the course of the movie. Arguably the best scene in the movie features Efron and Zendaya’s characters as they dance around an empty circus chasing for each other’s love.
Ultimately, ‘The Greatest Showman’ is an entertaining and fun watch, filled with beautiful dance numbers and songs that will get stuck in your head for days, (written by the song writers of La La Land’s ‘City of Stars’) but if you’re expecting a story filled with emotion and substance, you’ll be disappointed.