Tonight I caught up with The Greatest Showman, which received mostly poor reviews from critics, yet audiences have loved it. Did I love it? No. Frankly, I think the critics are right.
Ostensibly a fast-and-loose with facts musical based on the life of show-business pioneer PT Barnum, the film isn’t exactly terrible. It’s competently directed by Michael Gracey , but lacks the flair of, say, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. It features the odd good bit of choreography and music (courtesy of John Debney and Joseph Trapanese, and songwriters Paul and Pasek), and a fine cast, including Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson. However, the screenplay is predictable, episodic and ultimately unconvincing in it’s preachy, depth-of-a-teaspoon attempts at celebrating diversity (via dwarfs, bearded ladies, giants et al).
The first act, in which we see Barnum’s early struggles and successes, works reasonably well. However shortly after that, the plot goes off the rails (particularly in an excruciating scene featuring Queen Victoria). This is a shame, because the subject matter certainly had potential. Barnum was an interesting character, but despite attempts at grappling with themes of class prejudice, racism, ambition versus family, the temptations of being on tour and so on, the film feels glossy but superficial. At no point does it surprise, and it’s moral conclusions have been explored far more satisfyingly and convincingly in other works.
Much like the newspaper critic in the film, I’m left rather scratching my head as to why The Greatest Showman has been so successful. To be fair it isn’t as bad as, say, the inexplicably popular Mamma Mia. That film really was a pestilential pimple from the cleft of Satan’s buttocks, whereas this one is, at best, an adequate entertainment.
Simon Dillon, February 2018.