Review: The Greatest Showman (2017) (Is This The Musical You’ve Been Waiting For?)

“Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for…”

I don’t know about you, but I hate most film musicals. Try as I might, but I can’t watch them. The mere hint of a musical sends me running away in fear. Last year, La La Land made itself the first musical I ever went to the cinema to watch. And…I enjoyed it! It shouldn’t have been anywhere near the Oscars, but it did the job. A year later, I found myself at the cinema waiting to watch The Greatest Showman. Why? The trailer suckered me in, and my fiancée wanted to see it. And…I bloody loved it! The Greatest Showman stands as the only musical I could watch over and over again…and it also gave me a duet between Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, something I never knew I needed until I saw it (and I need more!).

If you want historical accuracy about P.T. Barnum and his circus, take this film with a pinch of salt. We follow Phineas from childhood to adulthood (in one song!), as he comes from nothing to create a wildly successful circus/freak show.  He gets the girl of his dreams (early on, so that’s not a spoiler), becomes an overnight success, but he always wants more…and that can only lead to one thing: a downfall! But I’d guess that in the real world, Barnum was a man firmly in the grey spectrum of morality. He probably exploited the “freaks” in his circus and cheated on his wife plenty of times.

“Comfort is the enemy of progress

These two should have their own spin-off musical

But if you want historical accuracy, read a book! Films are no place for historical accuracy, especially if you’re watching a musical film. What you want in a musical are thumping beats, singalong tunes, and a relatively relatable story that isn’t too complicated. Oh, and Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron sharing a duet (or at least that’s what I want in every musical from this point forward). You want a little subtlety, but want the main moral/message of the film blared out at the top of someone’s singing voice. For example, before creating his circus, Hugh Jackman looks out of his office window and sees a similar office block outside…convienently placed next to a cemetary. Does he really want to spend his life in an office job, and end up in that grave a stone’s throw away from the place he worked himself to death? Well, he doesn’t have a choice, as the company Hugh works for goes bankrupt a few minutes afterwards.

My inner cynic threatened to jump out and ruin my enjoyment at moments like these, but there was just too damn much joy and fun to be had in this film! Let’s be honest: the story is simple and a little clichéd. We’ve seen it all before: man rises from poverty, becomes too big for his boots and fails. It’s cheesy, corny and sugary sweet throughout. Although the “freaks” are there to make a social statement (and do, in a great song entitled “This Is Me”), they almost end up being merely part of the flash and dazzle of the film. You could even call this film… “fake,” the word many people use whenever I tell them I enjoy wrestling.

But, as Barnum tells a critic, as long as people are smiling, who cares if the spectacle is fake? And I barely lost my smile throughout the film (apart from the obligatory weepy moments…which may or may not have caused a tear in my eye). Right from the opening, I bought into the whole spectacle. Sometimes I have difficulty understanding why people are singing in a musical. But this film brought the singing about naturally, as young boy Barnum bursts into song about a million dreams in front of his true love. From that point on, the singing came about naturally.

“When will it be enough for you?”

If Britney Spears would have made an appearance in this film, I’d easily give it a 10!

You’ll have the songs stuck in your head for a long, long time (I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this review). 90% of the songs are showstoppers, with appropriately flashy dance choreography/imagery to accompany the songs. If you watch, for example, the Jackman/Efron duet and accompanying choreography (and great barman!) without smiling and at least tapping your feet, then it must take something special to make you smile. I found it difficult not to leap up out of my chair at times! In fact, my good mood today can be traced back to The Greatest Showman. Oh, and the duet between Efron and MJ from Spider-Man: Homecoming is a blend of fantastic lyrics and superb choreography.

I may have been seduced by the flash and dazzle of The Greatest Showman, just like those people were seduced by P.T. Barnum’s circus. A second viewing may reveal its deeper flaws, and make it’s already apparent flaws more irritating. But for once, I bought into the spectacle of a musical at the cinema. I did buy into La La Land, but that felt like a film with a few songs thrown into the mix. But if the cinema would have put on a singalong version of The Greatest Showman, I would have been blaring out my monotone singing voice to “The Greatest Show” and “This Is Me.” It’s given me a smile that could last for the week. And that’s what counts, isn’t it?

VERDICT: 9/10. The Greatest Showman is the first musical that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. It rises above its clichéd story with important morals and songs that make you want to burst out in song. It put a big fat smile on my face!

(On a related sidenote…I watched Logan the day before watching The Greatest Showman at the cinema. They make for interesting companion pieces…)

What did you think of The Greatest Showman (2017)? Leave your thoughts/comments below!

(Click here for my review of La La Land (2016)

5 thoughts on “Review: The Greatest Showman (2017) (Is This The Musical You’ve Been Waiting For?)

  1. Tony Parsons January 16, 2018 / 10:43 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts! I’m a 52 year old self-proclaimed ‘movie buff’ and have seen many, many films of all eras and nations. Yet this is the most joyful experience I’ve ever had in the cinema. It’s even better the second time! You only need to see joyous footage of singalong sessions to grasp what the team behind the film have achieved. Perhaps it’s the escapist film we need in these uncertain times? It’s fascinating reading the disconnect between the critics and the audiences who, overall, seem to love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane Gealy February 6, 2018 / 11:30 am

    Loved it! It took me a long time to persuade my partner to come see it, but so glad I did!

    Liked by 1 person

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