Last December “The Greatest Showman” was released and wowed audiences. Many spectators raved about the performances, spectacle and music. Unfortunately, the film is riddled with problems, such as the misrepresentation of P.T. Barnum, a trite message and underwhelming music. The film has a few shining moments but ultimately was a wasted opportunity to investigate the character of P.T. Barnum.
The film contains a few shining moments and is entertaining, if nothing else. Hugh Jackman’s performance stands out as he captures the essence of a man of the circus. This performance was the only one that stood out as anything more than ordinary. A few scenes also provided highlights, especially the opening scenes and the other circus performances.
The key issue with this film is its misrepresentation of the character of P.T. Barnum. The film portrays him as a deeply caring man who put his family first and was a champion of the down-and-outs of society. Sadly, this was not the case. While the real P.T. Barnum may have seen himself as portrayed in the film, it is more realistic to say that he used people society deemed “different” as attractions to make profit off them.
The film also paints Barnum as a conflicted family man attempting to provide for those he loves. Again, this may have been how Barnum saw things, but it is evident that the choices he made in his life were driven largely by his deep desire for fame and significance. A better film would have highlighted the nuance of Barnum’s character: an undeniably great and significant man that was in no way perfect, torn between a questionable pursuit of success and a desire to be a good father.
An additional disappointing piece of the film was its music. Many viewers raved about the music, but it felt cheap. It came off as trite and overproduced. The subject matter of the music is uninspired and does not move beyond the simplest themes. Typically, one of the high points of any musical is the music; however, throughout this film I found myself dreading the next time they were about to sing.
When a musical is done well, it presents the voices of the actors and actresses as they are, with little-to-no-production. “La La Land” does this beautifully, most songs for that film were actually recorded as they were shot, whereas in “The Greatest Showman,” tracks were clearly recorded in a studio and brought into the film. This leads to an unnatural transition whenever they break into song.
Ultimately, “The Greatest Showman” is a film that aimed to please crowds, and it accomplished that. In pursuit of that goal, it passed up on an opportunity to take a critical look at the life of P.T. Barnum, played it safe musically and delivered an underwhelming experience with too few high points and not enough in between to hold the attention of critical viewers.