A few weeks ago I went to see The Greatest Showman with some friends. From the second the first song began, we could not stop tapping our feet to the beat of the music. In fact, after the movie ended, the theater quickly cleared out, but we stayed dancing up and down the aisle of the theater to the songs that played as the credits rolled. We were enthralled; completely swept up in a movie that felt larger than life and destined for the Broadway stage. Since then it seems as though the music from The Greatest Showman are the only songs I hear. Everyone has the playlist on repeat, reliving the movie experience through the music.
The Greatest Showman, directed by Michael Gracey, tells the story of P.T Barnum, a tailor’s son, and his journey in creating “The Greatest Show on Earth”–The Barnum and Bailey Circus. The movie was released on the heels of the Barnum and Bailey Circus closing its doors to the public, and so for circus lovers, it was a bittersweet trip down memory lane. More than just a musical, The Greatest Showman is a tribute to Barnum and his creation.
Upon reflection, the movie is really trying to accomplish two things at once: one is to create a phenomenal musical, and the other is to tell a story. The musical front of the film was a smashing success. From the vivid colors of the scenery, to the dance numbers and the powerful vocal chords of the actors, the musical was a sight to behold. It is easy to become swept up in The Greatest Showman, the musical.
The story, however, does not deliver in the same way that the musical half of the film does. While the actors play their parts well, the story line was underdeveloped. There is very little character development in the film, nor is there character exploration in general. It seems that in order to keep up with the pace of the music numbers, the director decided to sacrifice the depth of the plot. It is easy to ignore this shortcoming since the musical is beyond amazing, but it is there, albeit lurking under the surface.
A second critique of the story is not specific to The Greatest Showman per se, but is a failure of many dramatizations of true stories. In reality, the saga with Jenny Lind depicted in the movie took place years before the circus began. In fact, although the film showed Barnum as a young man when he made the circus, it was not until he was sixty that he began his show. The decision to mold together two unrelated pieces of Barnum’s life raises a question of the purpose of dramatizing reality. The true story of the Barnum and Bailey Circus is enthralling enough, why change it in order to make it more fantastical?
If you are looking for a movie with emotional depth, or one that will give you an accurate depiction of Barnum’s conception of the circus, this movie is likely not for you. However, if you want to be swept up in a world of color, dance to a fantastic beat and come out of your movie watching experience with an enormous smile on your face, The Greatest Showman is definitely a movie that should be at the top of your hit list. And as for me, I am counting down the days until it becomes a Broadway musical and I can dance down the aisles of the theater as it plays live.