Directed by Michael Gracey, 2017
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
Step right up! To witness one of the greatest mistakes ever put to film, a circus musical™, The Greatest Showman.
I would love to tell you that The Greatest Showman tells a riveting story that captures you from the moment Hugh slips into his tails and dons the infamous top hat. Unfortunately, dear reader, this would cause you to lose all trust in your favorite old sport. Fact is, The Greatest Showman, has no story. Instead, it is a bunch of independent unconnected musical vignettes.
Director Michael Gracey did not invent a new type of eclectic musical moviemaking style. Instead, he made a pricey, elaborate, and highly crafted pile. The movie may be lacking in story, but the costumes, production design and overall look of the film are the type us classic film nerds pine to see grace the silver screen. So it probably comes as no surprise to learn that this old sport left the theater in absolute bewilderment, with the same old question racing through my head: How in the actual hell did this ever get made?
For the past couple of weeks, the studio at large seems to have wanted to keep this film as elusive as possible. Reviews were to not be posted until the day of release. They refused to advertise it as a musical, instead just leaving it to speculation. During the press screening (in which they wined and dined the patrons by treating them to live circus performers, popcorn, face painting, balloon animals, and soda pop) that I attended, many audience members seemed quite shocked when the movie opened with Hugh belting a song. This is a movie that we will later look back on and blame as a reason for not having “nice things." To my dismay, The Greatest Showman is yet another example of a bloated, showy, glitzy Hollywood pile that all those executives will later point at and proclaim to us: “This is why you don’t get good movies based on original material America! You don’t deserve them!” Rather than owning up to their mistakes, they will take it out on us by giving us another rendition of King Kong.
If Hollywood is going to dump truckloads of money into an original story, they should really check to make sure the script is completed. After an hour and forty-five minutes I really can’t tell you whose story they were trying to tell in The Greatest Showman. Initially, we are introduced to a young P.T. Barnum and his rise from the streets to marrying the girl of his dreams, Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams). For me, this was all according to plan – the story of P.T. Barnum. The story of how a man created one of the “greatest” shows on earth, the circus.
It was quickly realized this was not going to be one of those types of stories…you know, coherent. The movie focuses on many secondary stories which cause it to go completely off the rails. You have the story of the circus “freaks” and the people that refuse to accept them. The story of Barnum’s family rising from poverty. Barnum’s desire to impress the high society echelon and a…theater critic (that should have been played by Crispin Glover, #oldsportopinion). The story of Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), a world-class singer from Europe that Barnum decides to take under his wing. The relationship of Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) - a guy that before running off and joining the circus spent most of his time chilling with Kings and Queens (literally), has with the trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Clearly, a theme of the film was social acceptance and the desire for these outsiders to feel they are part of something. However, many of these heavy subjects are dealt with lightly. Specifically, the story being told between Phillip and Anne. This story was most troublesome to me. The filmmaker was attempting to show the difficulty of having an interracial relationship during the 1800s. However, when you have this many storylines going on with your film and nothing to really tie them all together it is not surprising that you end up with a scrambled mess. Sprinkle in the animal CGI and the same damn exhaustive song on repeat informing you that you are witnessing the GREATEST SHOW on earth and welllllllp…It is enough to make you want to never watch a film again.
In the end, you are left with show tunes that evoke sighs rather than moving the story along. A movie that according to Hugh (my love) took seven years to come to fruition that should have never seen the light of day. Thanks to this, now we will never see that Logan musical we have been lined up for. Take my advice, if you will be seeing The Greatest Showman this holiday season, plan accordingly: a bottle of whiskey and some ear plugs. Enjoy the show!