When I walk into a live musical I’m really most interested in one thing, and that’s the music. I want a coherent plot and characters that I enjoy, but I’m not looking for depth or nuance. I’m looking for show stopping musical numbers. Movies are a little different. You see, a movie puts you right in the action. So, the blood, sweat, and tears are right there to see. There is no projected to the crowd. The actors must deliver a level of depth and nuance to their performances. The script has to provide me with something a little more.
‘The Greatest Showman’ didn’t quite get that message. It’s a movie that looks great, has great actors, and delivers big numbers, but also fails in the smaller moments. For instance, there is a love story between Zac Efron’s uptown Phillip Carlyle and Zendaya’s trapeze swinging Anne Wheeler that consists of a few glances and hand holding before we get a great big musical number. Now, the musical number is amazing and there is some genuine emotion in it, but the problem is the bits without music.
There is also a part of the film where Hugh Jackman’s circus showman P. T. Barnum starts taking a famous singer name Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) around the country and she becomes infatuated with Barnum. The problem is it just comes off as odd. There doesn’t seem to be mutual chemistry and her lack of professionalism when he clearly indicates he can’t cheat on his wife (Michelle Williams) feels odd. However, her musical number speaks a million times louder than her actions and the connection also seems more palpable. Honestly, if the whole movie was in song it would be perfect.
The way it is, we are still dealing with a pretty entertaining movie. We just have to endure some cheesy scenes, a few thin character relationships, and a true story that feels shortchanged by the movies eagerness to please everyone. Yet, every time there is a small issue, it is followed up by a massive musical number that takes the house down. And I’m not referring to a few decent musical numbers that feel big. No, these musical numbers are so fantastic that I have been listening to them non-stop for nearly two weeks. There is actually no pop album I heard this year that comes close.
Jackman has always been a talented singer, but he really gets to deliver some wonderful pop ballads here to show off his range. Michelle Williams gets the weakest song in the film, but she gives it her all and shows she can really sing. Efron and Zendaya are wonderful in their musical performances, but the stand out is Keala Settle playing the bearded lady. When she sings the multiple award nominated song “This is Me” you will be up in your chair cheering.
So, despite the fact that Mr. Barnum and these characters deserve a biopic that doesn’t turn them into stereotypes, it is impossible to deny this music. As a pure musical, ‘The Greatest Showman’ is about as good as you can ask for. In fact, if it had taken Barnum’s story seriously it would have been one of the best films of the year. That’s the biggest disappointment.
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