Thursday 31 May 2018

The Greatest Showman ★★☆☆☆

In recent years, the musical film has come back into fashion. I guess it goes back to 2008 when Mamma Mia took the entire world by storm, making over $550 million profit and generally kicking the genre back into the public eye. Mamma Mia showed that a big-screen musical could be popular and rake in the big bucks, and in the years since, we’ve had a pretty steady stream of them. While some of them have done something fresh and original with the genre like La La Land, the majority of them have just a one-trick-pony gimmick film with little substance behind the catchy chart-topping tunes. The Greatest Showman is no different. If you’re a devout Greatest Showman fan or apologist, you might not agree with my thoughts…

Before we get into the film itself, let’s start with the glaring fact that makes the premise alone hard to swallow. The film is a fictionalised biopic of P.T. Barnum, the titular greatest showman who wowed the world with his circus of fun and frolics. But for those who don’t know, behind the curtain Barnum was a total shit who beat and exploited his ‘freak’ subjects and animals and was just generally a shady sod. But in this Hollywoodised telling of his life, he’s the hero of the tale. Yes, the film very briefly demonises him by making him consider an affair (which never happened) and, in a short scene, dismiss the ‘freaks’ he was supposedly trying to support. But no mention is made of his truly hideous side. This alone made me uncomfortable. Audiences around the world have been paying to sing along with this uplifting and colourful film based around the sort of bloke who, nowadays, would be on Crimewatch. We should not be celebrating him. His creation of the circus as we know it may be influential, but he should not be made out to be a legend.

All that aside, the film itself just isn’t much good. Important elements seem painfully rushed and without conclusion – for example, the short scene I mention above in which Barnum dismisses his clan. This should’ve been an important scene. Barnum gets a taste of high society and doesn’t allow his ‘freaks’ into his party. Ouch. Should be a big scene. But after the ragtag bunch of quirky heroes break into their self-acceptance “This Is Me” banger, all seems instantly forgiven. Other parts seem too fast – Barnum’s childhood is covered in minutes while his potential affair is dragged over half an hour. The pacing was just all over the place, and character development was none existent in many key players.

But at the end of the day, you’re here for the songs. And I’m not trying to sound like some hip, alternative arty-farty bugger when I say they’re totally unoriginal and tedious. This Is Me is Let It Go reincarnated, while all the other tunes are just generic and predictable fluff that did not have one iota of staying power in my mind. While La La Land’s Another Day of Sun is still in my head to this day, I can barely remember a note of most of The Greatest Showman’s tunes.

The cast try their best with the material and I’ve never had a bad word to say about Hugh Jackman, but the film just felt empty and dull. Explosive colours and pounding musical numbers aren’t enough to make a film work…but, I’m just one guy. While I’m in the majority of critics who can see past the film’s glossy overcoat to see the shit underneath, audiences worldwide have been eating it up and buying the soundtrack like there’s no tomorrow. And that’s great – if you enjoy it, I’m almost jealous that you can find pleasure in it. But for me, this is just bottom of the barrel entertainment that sits in the shadow of far superior films in the genre.

But I will say that the lavish visuals, costume and make-up are very well done. Bravo to the production team. It’s just a shame your hard work was wasted on such tosh. The Greatest Showman does not live up to its first song’s title, nor does the despicable Barnum deserve such a loving tribute. 

Sam Love

The Greatest Showman at CeX

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