The musical type of storytelling used in film has very old roots. They first found a home in cinemas around them 30s, and have nowadays adapted to fit modern conventions of good movies. It has endured until the 21st century, finding a home in Disney movies, in on-screen Broadway adaptations akin to that of Les Misérables in 2012, and in original stories such as La La Land in 2016. Needless to say, there is still a place for the musical scene in modern cinema.
Hollywood’s latest musical, came to cinemas all over the world in December of 2017. Due to the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), the release of the movie in the Philippines had to be postponed to 2018, where it would then become a cult hit after hitting theaters. The soundtrack, particularly the song Rewrite the Stars, kept playing on radio stations on endless repeat. The movie was the talk of the town. And yet, it didn’t do very well abroad. It garnered only a 55 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 6/10, and on its opening weekend, only made $8.8 million. This garners a very important question: How good is The Greatest Showman?
The short answer is that The Greatest Showman is an entertaining piece of spectacle, unabashedly designed to entertain and to dazzle, at the expense of some common filmmaking conventions. It’s a flick that sparkles when viewed from afar, setting the screen alight with beautiful set pieces, well-choreographed numbers, and alluding serenades to the eardrums with 11 songs produced by Oscar and Tony award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Upon closer inspection however, it leaves little to be desired.
Every night I lie in my bed, the brightest colors fill my head
If one is looking for a movie with whimsical, hopeful, and inspiring music, this is the movie for that. Every song in the soundtrack, from its opening hymn in The Greatest Show until the cathartic From Now On, the lyrics speak to the last, to the lost, and the least; to the people who have been judged for their appearance, their race, their gender, and their quirks—the melodies resonate with those hopeful of achieving something greater than themselves. The music is indicative of those who don’t want to stop dreaming and believing that they can be so much more than what society’s standards desire to force them to be.
A notable song in the movie would be The Greatest Show as it has the elements that aren’t present in all songs; Hugh Jackman sings it with gusto and confidence during the first few scenes of him. Then, the powerhouse singing of Lettie reigns in the majestic feel of the song, making it seemingly bigger than it is. It has the story, alongside the lyrics that resonate with those who are confident with their dreams. Songs that have also piqued the interest of the public are A Million Dreams and Rewrite the Stars, the latter of which has garnered so much attention that radio stations have had it on replay for some time after the movie’s release.
Covered in all the colored lights
When it comes to how the film is presented, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. When songs are playing, the film lights up, as if energized by the music. It provides a feast for the eyes, colorful and dazzling. The actors and performers are framed in ways that showcase the executions of each song. Long, uncut takes along with 360 degree pans, together with a variety of shots are used in order to capture the circus-like spectacle of the performances. The choreography accompanying the performances is to be commended as well. Every entertainer on display does exactly what they’re set out to do. A wide variety of performance types along with a cast wide synergy on display leads the movie’s set pieces to become perhaps the best thing about it.
However, amid the colored lights are the cracks hidden beneath it. Poorly rendered CGI animals and obvious body doubles are evident in the performances, and once these are spotted, the spectacle falls apart.
Beyond the performances, there isn’t anything in particular that the movie does well, nor does it falter too badly. Sure, sprinkled throughout the movie are shots and moments that appeal to the eye, but apart from that, there’s nothing really to commend.
This perhaps is due to the film’s plot, which is as bland as it can get. It’s a story we’ve seen done countless times; it’s a “rags to riches” story of a poor man turned great entrepreneur who learns the value of family and friendship. There is next to zero conflict in the film, and when there is even a sliver of a problem that the characters encounter, the next catchy tune and vibrant performance comes along to get the audience tapping their feet once more, and the problem is magically gone. It reeks of lackluster screenwriting, which is a shame considering that the “musical” aspect of the musical is done so well.
The runaways running the night
At this point, it’s needless to say that Hugh Jackman gives a delightful performance. The man has proven himself as an amazing actor over the years, and he has proven himself considerably. Zac Efron, who perhaps might be seen as the weakest link going into the movie, held his own and gave a performance that harkened back to the best parts of his High School Musical stint. The cast in general performs well enough.
Enough has been said about the songs, but that most of the cast actually performed the songs is commendable as well. This praise of course does not apply to Rebecca Ferguson, whose only song Never Enough is performed by Loren Allred. Apart from that, it was great to see the cast give their all.
A solid 2.5
However you feel about the movie, there is no doubt that this isn’t the greatest show (man)—it is weighed down by far too many flaws and pales in comparison to the legendary musicals of old. Despite this, it still has the capacity to inspire and to enchant. The music from this movie has captured the hearts of many who have seen it, and is accompanied by well-choreographed performances in the movie. The downfall of the movie is in an incredibly lackluster storyline along with a character who while charming, mostly due to Hugh Jackman’s performance, is unoriginal and remains stagnant throughout the film.
The real life P.T. Barnum (of which the character in The Greatest Showman is based on) is commonly associated with the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Putting the nature of the real life Barnum separate from the movie, the divisive nature of The Greatest Showman begs the question: Who really is the sucker? Is he or she the one that falls for the allure of the hymns and melodies in the film, and in doing so lets their heart get sucked into the film? Or is he or she the one who condemns the movie for its undeserved quality, picking apart the shoddy storytelling technique it possesses? Such is the beauty of film discourse; whichever side of the coin you fall on, you’re justified—and in that sense, however you feel about the movie, you’re still a sucker.