Americans seeking a great circus film are still left with their hopes as high as the trapeze under the big top and their wants unfulfilled after seeing The Greatest Showman.
Starring Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, this holiday’s musical release may have only done casting right by the trained eye. For a family holiday pic with easy plots and hidden controversies, the film is a no brainer. However, to a connoisseur of musicals or a circus historian, this show is severely lacking.
Michael Gracey, director, whose other works include Naruto and Ned Kelly, turned the latest attempt at an American circus film into yet another auto-tuned, flashy disappointment. With expert casting of Jackman and Efron, arguably the only old-school musical actors left, the charisma and talent of the leads is never called into question. But with the back stories of supporting roles hidden behind chorus-type-roles of the “acts” in Barnum’s circus, their never seems to be historical development.
The movie boasts in trailers of acceptance for all people unique in their own way, but upon viewing the film the audience sees that Barnum was truly only involved and accepting for the liner of his pocket. Arguably the musical’s best piece, is hidden in the middle with Keala Settle’s performance of the previewed hit, “This Is Me,” which has great build up and story connection but none of the telling ballad-like methods of standard musicals.
This piece does appeal to the modern audience. It stands mostly on its own through elaborate costuming, forbidden love and a, however failed, attempt at comedy throughout the plot, but the music is repetitive and pop in a way that screams, “modern” without any thrill of the old musical style that Jackman and Efron could have pulled off so well. The obvious use of auto-tune once again distracts from the artists’ real ability and shows an ever-changing perception of music and talent, which is only furthered by the lip-syncing that Rebecca Ferguson did for the “Jenny Lind” vocals provided by The Voice finalist Loren Allred.
The film lacks continuity. Whether in plot, theme or music it feels as though the audience is watching one large montage which connects only by reach. Though Barnum is expected to be accepting and supportive given his career, his person is actually one who is deeply shallow, reaching only for money and success. However true that aspect of history may be, the movie did not portray it well, showing Barnum as only slightly distracted from his nature of accepting. A vengeful yet talented Barnum only grasps the audience by his raw talent and underdog beginnings.
As for the other characters, there’s no review to be had because no back-story was afforded. They were all turned from outcasts into chorus members. Even Disney-sensation Zendaya’s talents were mostly hidden, only coming out in her one-on-one scene with Efron atop the ropes. Her talent is unmistakable and largely unrecognized with this film.
After a disappointing look at the “Circus World” in Water for Elephants (2011), fans can be encouraged by the happy nature of The Greatest Showman, though the want is still there and that dark past of what began as vaudeville will always be on the minds of circus-goers.
Don’t get me wrong, the soundtrack is catchy and it is obvious why young audiences love the film. It’s blatantly clear why the soundtrack is number one on iTunes right now, it’s poppy and easily consumed. The bright colors and enticing dances make this musical more accessible than most previously released. My argument only comes as that of someone who is adjusted and loving of classical musicals.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey closed and collapsed their “big top” for good in May 2017. Circus films will continue to be made and their legacy will live on, but fans are still left seeking that old familiar hoodwinking by the greatest show on earth.