When it comes to intricate stunts and standout musical numbers, The Greatest Showman definitely knows how to please, but if audiences are looking for well-developed characters or storylines, they might want to look elsewhere.It’s quite possible for a movie-musical to be supported by an inspiring, fully-fleshed out story to engage audiences beyond the spectacle of a dance number and vocal ensembles. It was done with La La Land, Les Miserables, and countless other timely Christmas musical releases. While The Greatest Showman had multiple different stories that had the potential to be more than just the backseat to the performances, it seems the film doesn’t know exactly what to do with its subjects unless they’re involved in song and dance.
Based on the true story of P.T. Barnum, the founder of the “circus,” The Greatest Showman is partially an origin story. Hugh Jackman plays the lead role of Barnum with charm, but his storyline finds itself so rushed through that audiences may find it difficult to connect to the character on any deeper sort of level. Jackman’s character is not the only one that falls victim to this treatment. With such a star-studded cast and a story with so much potential, it seems The Greatest Showman bit off more than it could chew story-wise, and found itself trying to tackle so many different interesting plots that none of them were completely developed by the end.
We were given the story of Zac Efron’s character, Phillip Carlyle, a playwright who apparently came from money and was sacrificing his reputation by involving himself in the circus, and the story of Anne Wheeler, played by Zendaya, a black trapeze artist shunned by society. There was also an underdeveloped romantic subplot that the film handled lazily involving Barnum and the opera singer Jenny Lind, played by Rebecca Ferguson. All of the performances did the roles justice, but unfortunately, the story content did not. We as an audience were meant to believe that many of these characters were sacrificing a great deal, but narratively we aren’t given enough evidence to sustain that fact, which leaves the storyline a bit unsatisfying by the end.
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The film’s musical sequences are its redeeming feature, with a soundtrack that’s sure to excite any movie-musical fan. The ensemble cast does very well in bringing an added energy to the screen at many points, and all of the leads carry the musical numbers with a flourish. Broadway performer Keala Settle stands out in her performance vocally as Lettie Lutz, the Bearded Lady, and Zendaya’s trapeze work on screen is sure to entertain.
Unfortunately, while The Greatest Showman did in fact put on quite the show musically, audiences shouldn’t go into the film expecting to get too emotionally involved. Narratively the film is quite the circus, but if all you’re looking for is a fun musical that’ll get you dancing, The Greatest Showman shouldn’t completely disappoint.