P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grew up a poor boy in love with the beautiful Charity (Michelle Williams) the daughter of one of his father’s rich clients. After years apart he comes back to her and whisks her away to a life of the less lavish hoping and praying to give her more. After another unsuccessful job he gets himself a loan and starts his museum which eventually turns into P.T Barnum Circus where all the local “freaks” perform. As he becomes more successful he loses himself to the fame and wanting to be better than what he once was, losing everything he stands for in the process.
With lyricists Justin Paul and Benj Pasek on board fresh after winning an Oscar and multiple other awards for the musical hit “Lala Land” one would assume “The Greatest Showman” would be another flawless hit. And where the music is concerned it truly is a sensational musical, but the film’s all-around story falls just short of being even remotely “great”. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough meat to the story for the film to make an impact. It’s really just a fun, poppy in your face singalong with parts of different stories shoved at the viewers in a sad attempt at getting us to feel empathy towards the misfits of Barnum’s circus.
With incredible actors and vocalists in Jackman, Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, and welcoming the relatively new Rebecca Ferguson (Life), and Keala Settle (Rick and the Flash) there is no reason that the film should be so, if you will, flat. We are dragged through the story of Barnum by director Michael Gracey and writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon. We are forced to simply piece together the story that is going on between Efron and Zandaya’s characters let alone any of the other interesting characters.
The love between Phillip Carlyle (Efron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) are told in 5 short scenes. First, when Phillip first sees Anne flying through the air there is a slow-motion moment where we see them look into each other’s eyes and just like that we are to believe they’re in love with each other. Second, while watching Jenny Lind (portrayed by Ferguson, vocals by Loren Allred) Phillip goes to hold Anne’s hand but when he feels the eyes of other upper-class white families turning to glance at them he pulls away and Anne leaves upset. A similar scene plays out when Phillip goes to take Anne on a date, which we are left to believe they’ve been seeing each other in secret for some time and this is to be their first public outing together. The couple runs into Phillip’s parents who vocalize their disdain towards Anne who is an African American and therefore simply not good enough for Phillip and his upper-class lifestyle. Again, Anne runs away upset. Finally, the duo gets to have a duet together in the circus ring where Anne is trying to let out some steam while proclaiming her love to Phillip. By the end of the song Anne once again leaves, probably upset. Phillip is left to accept that in this life they aren’t meant to be together. You think this is it for the duo and there’s no more to be said about their relationship, but in a fire, Phillip runs into the flames to look for Anne which leaves him unconscious. Anne sits with him in the hospital until they kiss and all the issues they had leading up to this point has apparently stopped being an issue.
There’s also the Bearded Woman (Settle) who is introduced as a woman with an amazing voice and potential star of the circus based on vocal talent alone. She hardly gets a song or a storyline in before she get’s her “I’m a misfit being replaced by the pretty lady and I don’t care” song. This comes rather quickly and you can tell it was intended to be an impactful moment, but it doesn’t hit it’s mark as hard as it should. And just as quickly as her anger came it’s gone and she’s accepted that she along with everyone else in the circus has been replaced.
Looking past these quick skims of story arcs there are the inaccuracies of how people would conduct themselves. It’s the 1850’s Anne and her brother wouldn’t be hired in the circus, nor would she have been allowed into a Caucasian hospital. Her relationship with Phillip would also never happen. Character-wise Phillip wouldn’t risk falling further out with his family to be with Anne, let alone be willing to parade their relationship around as it was illegal at the time.
Overall ‘The Greatest Showman’ is a flashy okay movie with a decent soundtrack. Other than that it’s nothing but pretty costumes and a couple half decent dance numbers.