The Greatest Showman delights, taking a mediocre plot and making it shine

It’s not groundbreaking cinema, but this film will entertain you

(Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

By: Leila Bonner

Many movies fall into a certain niche category. Sometimes, it’s a whole genre: like thrillers, crime-dramas, or comedies. Other times, it’s a less conventional grouping: like whimsical rom-coms or movies that freak you out. However, not all movies fit a single category. In the case of Michael Gracey’s recent release, The Greatest Showman, this proves true. Though the movie lacks originality and is a movie-musical, its modernity, message, and glitz make it a film that people of different tastes can all enjoy.

     The Greatest Showman follows the life of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), taking the viewer on a brief journey through his boyhood to his adult family life with his childhood sweetheart, Charity (Michelle Williams) and their two daughters. From there, the movie follows the rise and fall of Barnum as he becomes an entrepreneur in the entertainment world, buoyed by his ideas for his circus, his rampant imagination, and his personal quests. With a star-studded cast and music from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen), the movie musical aims high on all levels. The question is, with so much going for it, is the film as good as it should be?

     In many ways, the answer is yes. To start, the movie benefits greatly from its cast. Jackman shines as Barnum, bringing to the character a boyish enthusiasm for his schemes and misadventures that is vital to the movie. The other characters are also portrayed well, some highlights including Williams’s modest playfulness as Mrs. Barnum, Rebecca Ferguson nailing the high-brow grace of opera singer Jenny Lind, and Keala Settle’s fantastic vocals in playing the Bearded Lady. In addition, the music and cinematography of the film are excellent; the soundtrack’s surging dynamism carries the movie’s emotional climaxes well, while the vibrance and color of the film gives The Greatest Showman a truly magical feel. Where the movie appears to gain the most criticism, however, is undoubtedly its weakest point — the plot.

     To put it simply, The Greatest Showman feels like part origin story and part inspirational drama, all tied up into one bedazzled, slightly unoriginal present. The plot moves from a tidy backstory through to a predictable ending with some conflict in the middle, and a heavy dose of messaging that speaks of accepting yourself and following your inspiration. Change the movie’s moral or its setting, and this formula fits any number of feel-good films. Additionally, the movie’s portrayal of Barnum and some of its plot points aren’t totally accurate, as articles by Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly point out. If you’re looking for a credible, thought-provoking historical movie, The Greatest Showman is not it. However, perhaps that’s not the point.

     The Greatest Showman doesn’t break boundaries or reinvent modern cinema, but it will dazzle you and make you feel as though the world could be yours if you only gave your dreams your best shot. So, perhaps it isn’t the best movie of the year, its flashiness tries to compensate for its flaws, and its message is something we’ve all heard before. Regardless, The Greatest Showman just might leave you with a smile on your face.

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