The circus is a spectacle by its nature but adding song and dance numbers to an already extravagant show feels a bit over-the-big-top. Next, add some up and coming talent to the mix along with one established and respected actor and this might be the greatest show in theaters. So, does “The Greatest Showman” actually deliver a story worthy of the Barnum name or did they only send in the clowns? Let’s dive in and take a look in this review.
The trailers led me to believe that this film would be about PT Barnum and his struggle to bring about the most recognizable show in show business. That’s about one third true. The basic story is split into what I believe are thee separate stories that are all intertwined. We have Barnum and his family trying to achieve a lifestyle that he (Barnum) believes in. We have a forbidden romance between a street performer (who is black) and a youthful socialite (who is white). This is only “forbidden” because, well, the time period wouldn’t afford such relations between such disparate classes of people. More importantly, during the years this film is supposedly taking place, (1850-1860’s) the Civil War is occurring and while it takes place in New York, there’s no dynamic reached in this film that emphasises how terrible it must have been for a young black woman performing in a circus, all the while, a young influential white man is keen on her. I feel this aspect of the story was completely ignored because it should’ve been much more dramatic and it was not. It felt like two kids who could and wanted to fall in love but didn’t because of any number of superficial reasons. His suit looks funny. Her socks are weird. Pick a superficial reason, any reason, and that could easily be why they seemed reluctant to explore the budding relationship. Finally, the story took time to show us the value of inclusion. By accepting those who are different the opportunity is available to create a new sense of community and family. This third aspect of the story I feel they did the best job telling of the three stories being told.
In all, the three parts to this story were not well developed. The story is minimal details, and enough, just enough, to tell the story they wanted to tell without it being overly confusing or sluggish. The pacing of the film worked well for me because it felt like the movie just kept moving along without delay. I won’t say that the pacing was my favorite aspect of my time spent in the theater but it was definitely a positive plus for this film. While we aren’t getting a lot of character development or back story, the main stories are progressing at a steady tempo which made the overall time at the movies seem rather short, surprisingly.
This review would not be complete if I didn’t mention the music and dancing since the film is a musical. I think I’ve reached that point in my life where the “new” way of doing things makes me feel old. As someone who used to perform in and help with live stage musicals, I’m accustomed to a certain style or sound for the song and dance numbers. This had a completely fresh and modern feeling which I wasn’t particularly pleased with. In fact, one of the songs sounded so much like a “Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine” number I wanted a margarita in the movie. I resisted the urge and continued enjoying my unsweet iced tea. That aside, this films musical numbers could easily be on the radio during a Top40 countdown segment. They didn’t feel like musical numbers. They all felt like modern pop tunes with people singing and dancing to them inappropriately dressed. (I say inappropriate because there’s no reason for people to dress like a chimney sweep in todays musical landscape unless that’s some new fashion thing I’m not aware of, because, I’m old.) However, the choreography was spectacular! The timing of the dance moves were all blocked so well I was eating it up. If this film did one thing exceptionally well, it was the choreography. I was absolutely delighted by how everyone moved and shook for each song. Also, I heard a rumor that Zendaya did her own stunt work during one of the songs and if true, WOW! You’ll know the scene when you see the movie, assuming you see it.
“The Greatest Showman” is in theaters now! I’m not gonna recommend a big screen viewing for this film. It isn’t terrible but by waiting for it to hit DVD or BLU-Ray you won’t be missing anything either. This film can be just as enjoyable from the comfort of your favorite bean bag chair, futon, recliner, love seat or sectional. There’s a lot of incredible dancing and pageantry but that’s not enough to save the film from stories that are too thin to make any lasting or impactful impression.