Musicals aren’t for everyone. But I’ve been a fan of the genre since my younger days of watching Disney animated films on repeat. Great music can make a good film even greater, adding emotion and a little flare to what might normally be a bland story. The Greatest Showman, directed by newcomer Matt Gracey, features original music written by the minds behind 2016 musical hit, La La Land.
Hugh Jackman stars as P.T. Barnum, the founder of the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus which was established in 1871. Struggling to keep a job that will give his family a better life than his, Barnum sets out and recruits a host of unique individuals to form his New York circus. With the support of his loving wife (Michelle Williams), Barnum’s circus becomes a hit, with backlash from theater critics and high society threatening to damage his legacy along the way.
Virtually every cast member in The Greatest Showman is phenomenal. Jackman, who is no stranger to musical theater, triumphs vocally and emotionally in the lead role. The subplots of the supporting cast mostly hold equal weight and feel well in tune with the overarching narrative. Zac Efron stars as Barnum’s partner Phillip Carlyle, a playwright who forms a forbidden romance with a black trapeze artist (Zendaya). Keala Settle brings soulful vocals and wholesome charm as Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady. Even Rebecca Ferguson, who clearly borrows another voice for her character’s powerful vocals, entices as a famous Swedish singer who falls for Barnum.
But this is Matt Gracey’s first time directing a feature length film, and at times it is very noticeable. The film is often bogged down by rushed exposition and a few noticeable takes of poor editing. Sam Humphrey’s dwarf performer Charles Stratton seems to move awkwardly as if his legs are superimposed. His speaking voice also seems falsified, an unfortunate trend throughout the film. The music is certainly always splendid, but the obvious lip sync in a few scenes is somewhat cringeworthy to watch.
Despite the editing flaws and occasional narrative lulls, the interesting characters and brilliant music make the film easier to enjoy. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting duo behind La La Land, outdo themselves with this soundtrack. Here their musical style seamlessly molds a mix of genres like gospel and pop with a rich Broadway boldness that never manages to feel out of place in the 19th century setting. Coupled with fun choreography and some incredible visuals and set pieces, The Greatest Showman should be a delight to fans of the genre and absolutely avoidable for those that aren’t.
FINAL GRADE: B