I’m not usually a stickler for 100 percent historical accuracy, but even I have to admit that “The Greatest Showman” takes a battle axe to P.T. Barnum’s true story.
The film tells the story of how Barnum (Hugh Jackman) went from a poor boy coming from nothing to a well-known showman who creates entertainment via circus acts. It doesn’t just do this in any ordinary manner, though. Instead, the film goes into full musical mode right off the bat and never lets up.
As the movie goes on, it explores Barnum trying to balance his family life with his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and his business, which he runs with help from his partner Phillip (Zac Efron).
“The Greatest Showman” has some things working for it, but even more working against it. As previously stated, the movie is quite historically inaccurate when it comes to Barnum’s overall story. For example, his work as a politician who supported the Thirteenth Amendment is never even mentioned.
However, this isn’t the only weakness from a story perspective. Another issue was the film’s pacing, which was way too fast. In about 15 minutes or so of montage at the start, Barnum goes from poor child to a man and is shown marrying Charity. This quickness in storytelling continues throughout the film, with emotional moments moving by so fast that there’s not much time to absorb what’s going on.
It doesn’t help that the script isn’t all that strong, either. There aren’t many memorable moments featured when it comes to Barnum’s story since it’s written in such a straightforward way. It goes from a rags-to-riches story then transitions into a ‘dad doesn’t have enough time for his kids because of work’ formula, it doesn’t really have anything new to say.
Fortunately, the film is somewhat carried by the music and dancing. The songs are catchy and the choreography features a lot of movement and intensity. The production value is immense and every time the music starts, the picture gets a huge boost of energy.
The film lets you in on the fact that it’s a musical at the very start, too. The movie’s opening song begins during the company logos and it’s loud, powerful and lets you know what you’re in for. These types of big, showy music numbers continue, and for the most part, they’re pretty fun to watch and listen to. Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, for example, have a great duet scene at a bar where they decide whether or not to go into business together.
While the ensemble cast do provide a lot of energy and put plenty of effort into these musical numbers, though, the acting doesn’t rise above the material when the songs end. While Hugh Jackman and other performers bring charisma to their roles, the acting never brings out much from these characters.
“Showman” can entertain an audience with its flashy settings and costumes as well as its catchy tunes. At the same time, though, the story and characters are rather shallow and Barnum’s full biography is glossed over. 2.8 out of 5.