Film Review: ‘The Greatest Showman’ (2023)

The Greatest Showman” is a good old-fashioned cornball PG musical that is also a scintillatingly flashy — and woke! — immersion in up-to-the-minute razzmatazz. It takes the life of P.T. Barnum, the anything-goes circus impresario of the 1800s, who is played with irresistible effervescence by Hugh Jackman, and turns him into a saintly huckster-maestro who invented the spirit of modern showbiz by daring to follow his dream. At the same time, the film takes Barnum’s infamous believe-it-or-not attractions — Tom Thumb, Dog Boy, Tattoo Man, the Bearded Lady — and makes them over into sensitive enlightened outcasts, a kind of 19th-century freak-show gallery of identity politics.

How piously anachronistic is that? Very. Yet “The Greatest Showman” wants to give you a splashy good time, and does, and it’s got something that takes you by surprise: a genuine romantic spirit. The numbers are shot like electromagnetic dance-pop music videos, and to say that they sizzle with energy wouldn’t do them justice — they’re like a hypodermic shot of joy to the heart. You know you’re watching conventional chorus-line-with-a-beat flimflam, all decorating a tall tale, but that’s the ultra Hollywood pleasure of “The Greatest Showman.” It’s a biopic that forges its own uplifting mythology, and if you think back on it when it’s over and feel, maybe just a little bit, like you’ve been had — well, that’s part of its sleight-of-hand charm. P.T. Barnum would have been suckered by it, and would have approved.

(Video) Honest Trailers - The Greatest Showman

The movie, shot with richly lacquered pizzazz by Seamus McGarvey, opens with a spectacular shot of Jackman’s Barnum, silhouetted under the rafters in his signature long coat and top hat, looking like as pure a creature of theatrical bravado as the M.C. in “Cabaret.” And though “The Greatest Showman” offers a much more family-friendly vision (this film about the sleazy bottom rungs of the entertainment world is one you could easily take young children to), it conjures the spirit of Bob Fosse — his imperious snap and verve — in the sexy precision of its choreography, and in its vision of a lowly circus that titillates and thrills because it demonstrates that all the world’s a stage.

The basic storyline, however, is tidy in its symmetries, made with a pleasing neo-traditional studio-system squareness. That first number, “The Greatest Show,” with its wild and primitive beat merging into a powerful hook, breaks off after about a minute, leaving us salivating for more stage ecstasy. The movie then flashes back to the 1820s, when Phineas Taylor Barnum is just a kid (played by Ellis Rubin, who suggests a hungry young Pete Townshend), traveling to rich people’s houses along with his tailor father, and watching the two of them get treated like the lowliest of servants. At the snobby home of the Halletts (Frederic Lehne and Kathryn Meisle), Phineas meets their daughter, Charity (Skylar Dunn), and the soaring duet “A Million Dreams,” with its creamy pristine harmonies, establishes “The Greatest Showman” as one of those movies in which a couple fall in love as children, and the enchanted innocence of their connection lets us know that that love will be forever.

(Video) The Greatest Showman - Official Movie Review

Phineas grows up into P.T. Barnum (Jackman), who woos Charity (Michelle Williams) over the disdainful objections of her father. This sets up the essence of his motivation to become a showman: He wants to give Charity the life to which she’s accustomed — and, while he’s at it, to whip her father at his own game.

Barnum ekes outa living in a Dickensian shipping office, and when the company goes bankrupt, he’s got nothing to lose. The couple now has two daughters (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), and Barnum’s fantasy is a kind of trifecta: He wants to fend for his family (he’s wounded at not being able to buy his girls ballet slippers), he wants to validate the love of the wife he lured into poverty — and he wants to do something that no one has done before: turn life, in all its gutbucket wonder, into a star attraction.

Jackman plays Barnum with a rapacious grin, his eyes twinkling with moonstruck pleasure. He wants the whole world to see what he sees, and a little more —he wants them to see the tawdry wonder of it. That will require a new kind of presentational daring, not to mention a little lying. Eagerly, with his eyes on the prize, Barnum lines up his fabulous freaks: a 500-pound man, who he will bill as a 750-pound man (why not?), dubbing him the Irish Giant (even though he’s Russian). A 22-year-old dwarf known as Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), whom he dresses as Napoleon on a horse. And, of course, the most singular freak of all: Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), the Bearded Lady.Barnum convinces these benighted folks to join his circus, housed in a building in Manhattan just as the city’s concrete grandeur is locking into place — the new world being constructed around horse-and-buggy paths. Barnum is already plugging into the notion that people are numb, jaded, overwhelmed. They need something to prod them to life.

The crowd, he says, will have a chance to behold the humanity of his freaks — and that’s true, in a sense, to what P.T. Barnum did. He dragged the strange and the deformed out of the closet (literally, in some cases), and forced his audience to confront their realness. Yet if you’re really going to get real about it, he was a master exploiter. This was not “My Left Foot;” he packaged his freaks as The Other — and “The Greatest Showman” turns Barnum, for all his carny capitalism, into the multiculti Mother Teresa of oddball showmanship. He really believes he’s doing it for their own good, and so does the movie.

(Video) What's Wrong With THE GREATEST SHOWMAN?

Yet when Barnum’s attractions join together to sing and dance their eccentric asses off in the exhilarating chorus of “Come Alive” (“And you know you can’t go back again,/To the world that you were living in,/’Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open”), the number sweeps you into its majestic syncopated flow, with its hint of gospel, its surge of melodic compassion. The songs were composed by the team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the lyrics for the songs in “La La Land,” and they’ve crafted rhythms and melodies that drive the movie — gorgeously — forward. When the Bearded Lady gets her own number, the inspirational rouser “This Is Me,” the scene is a pure-hearted epiphany. It’s enough to make you want to see “The Elephant Man” turned into a musical written by Lady Gaga.

The numbers in “The Greatest Showman” have a dance-pop fire that keeps you hooked, and that bursting-out quality recalls, at times, the spirit of “Moulin Rouge!” Yet “The Greatest Showman,”while it’s all but destined to become the crowd-pleaser of the holiday season (and, just possibly, a surprise awards contender), lacks the darkly audacious grandeur that made “Moulin Rouge!” a work of movie-musical art. The film’s conflicts have a storybook simplicity.

Barnum hires, as a right-hand man, a slumming rich-kid playwright, Phillip Caryle (Zac Efron), who’s got downscale showmanship in his blood. Phillip is quickly consumed by his love for the black trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), a clandestine passion that builds to the devotional duet “Rewrite the Stars,” a number literally — and spiritually — suspended in air. Efron and Zendaya have a terrific chemistry —they never stop seeking each other out. But it’s Barnum’s wandering eye that drives the film’s conflict.

During a visit to Queen Victoria, he meets the celebrated Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), and he’s captivated — by her voice, and her crystaline presence. On stage in America, kicking off the tour that Barnum leverages his empire to arrange (which really happened), Jenny, in ruby-red lipstick, sings “Never Enough” with an ecstatic solemnity that leaves you floored. The spectacular vocals are by “The Voice” alum Loren Allred, who with her rapturous cries of “Never! Never!” sounds like Adele ascending into the heavens. Has Barnum fallen in love? A little bit, yet he remains faithful to his wife. The real thing he’s fallen for is Jenny’s dream of upscale sublimity. So he begins to leave his freaks behind.

The director, Michael Gracey, is an Australian maker of commercials who has never directed a feature before, and he works with an exuberant sincerity that can’t be faked. “The Greatest Showman” is a concoction, the kind of film where all the pieces click into place, yet at an hour and 45 minutes it flies by, and the link it draws between P.T. Barnum and the spirit of today is more than hype. Barnum, in his carny-barker way, knows that everyone is a star; his appeal, as Jackman portrays him, is that he changes the world by getting the whole world to believe that. He really did invent the greatest show on earth. Until, of course, it was topped by something called Hollywood.

(Video) The Greatest Showman Movie Review

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FAQs

What are the 5 main lessons from The Greatest Showman? ›

Life lessons learned from The Greatest Showman
  • I am not scared to be seen. ...
  • No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else. ...
  • For years I chased their cheers. ...
  • And what is your act? ...
  • You're risking everything you have built! ...
  • Comfort is the enemy of progress. ...
  • A man's station is only limited by his imagination.

Why did Jenny Lind kiss Barnum in The Greatest Showman? ›

Upon finishing the song and bowing with Barnum, in front of all the cameras, she turns to Barnum and kisses him on the lips. Lind uses the kiss as her chance to say goodbye and continue her tour without him, as she knows he was returning home.

What is the main point of The Greatest Showman? ›

In “The Greatest Showman,” the initial emotional goal of the hero (PT Barnum) is to gain respect for who he is. That central theme underlies the entire story from start to finish and drives all the action of not only PT Barnum, but everyone around him.

What is The Greatest Showman short summary? ›

Why is there a bearded lady in The Greatest Showman? ›

This bearded woman acted in real life in P. T. Barnum's circus. It is supposed that she had a hormonal problem that made her have more facial her than many women had. Thomas Neuwirth created a character similar to this woman: Conchita Wurst.

What are the business lessons taught in The Greatest Showman? ›

Grow your resources

Throughout The Greatest Showman, Barnum does indeed grow in his personal leadership. He also invests in connections, making them the foundation of his business model. But most importantly, he knows when he must grow his access to outside resources.

Why can t Anne and Philip be together in The Greatest Showman? ›

It was unacceptable for a woman of color and a white man to be together. This was exacerbated by Phillip coming from wealth, while Anne and W.D. were working class. Racism in The Greatest Showman was more evident when Phillip and Anne encountered Phillip's parents, who chastised him for “parading around with the help”.

Did Zendaya actually do trapeze? ›

As trapeze artist Anne Wheeler in The Greatest Showman, Zendaya hardly used stunt doubles. Here's how the actress managed the gravity-defying feats. Zendaya can sing, dance and act, and after doing many of her own stunts for The Greatest Showman, she has some trapeze skills under her belt, too.

Do Philip and Anne end up together? ›

After the events of 'From Now On', Phillip wakes up and shares a tender kiss with Anne. Anne finally accepts she really does love him, and decides to stay with him, despite the racism and social barriers.

What do Christians learn from The Greatest Showman? ›

The Greatest Showman Review
  • Life is meant to be a great adventure. ...
  • The pressures of life tempt us to deaden our hearts. ...
  • Choosing our dreams awakens our hearts, igniting passion, and surrounds us in purpose. ...
  • The more alive we become, the more those around us will gain courage to chase their dreams.
Sep 14, 2018

What is the weakness of The Greatest Showman? ›

In fact, the lack of focus on the circus acts is probably the film's biggest weakness. P.T. Barnum was a despicable man. He was a racist and he took advantage of people who lived on the fringes of society and were frequently taken advantage of by everyone.

What happened at the end of The Greatest Showman? ›

Phillip finishes the show and kisses Anne, while Barnum rides an elephant to meet Charity and the girls. The film ends with Barnum and Charity watching Caroline perform in the ballet (with Helen playing a tree), and Barnum acknowledging that everything he ever wanted and needed is right in front of him.

Did P. T. Barnum love his wife? ›

In his autobiographies, Barnum conveys deep love for Charity, writing that on the day he married her, he "became the husband of one of the best women in the world." She was his bedrock throughout the marriage until her death in 1873. Charity (right) was married to P.T. Barnum for 44 years until her death in 1873.

What does a million dreams mean in The Greatest Showman? ›

The composer of the song “A Million Dreams” wanted to show that the main character Barnum is a representation of the flame of a dreamer, who always has a vision and a strong desire to change his life to be bigger and more colorful than before.

What did the daughters wish for in The Greatest Showman? ›

Because here's the thing: Early in the film, when they are poor, one of his young daughters whispers a wish into P.T.'s special wishing lamp (because what is a poor young dreamer without a wishing lamp for his children to whisper into?). All she wants is ballet slippers.

Is The Greatest Showman based off of a true story? ›

Yes indeed. The Greatest Showman follows the true story of P.T. Barnum's rise to fame with his circus, though some details are slightly exaggerated. Zac Efron's character, Phillip Carlyle, along with his love interest Anne Wheeler, played by Zendaya, are fictional characters.

Why doesn t the Bearded Lady just shave? ›

While she hasn't been officially diagnosed, Geil believes her hairiness is due to a combination of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and genetics. Throughout her teenage years and twenties she was so ashamed of her hair she wore long sleeves and high turtlenecks to hide the fuzz on her chest and arms.

What condition did the Bearded Lady have? ›

She was diagnosed with signs and symptoms of hyperandrogenism like hirsutism, impressive strength and muscularity and a deep voice, but also with morbid obesity. She never gave birth to a child. At the age of 39, she was officially allowed by the French Government to wear man's clothes.

What is the moral of the story of The Greatest Showman? ›

Don't let others bring you down. Don't let others be too influential in your life, especially the ones who are critical of you and what you are accomplishing.

How does The Greatest Showman show discrimination? ›

Moreover in the "The Greatest Showman", the circus members consisted of strange-looking people. It proved that ethnicity, race, physical appearance, economy were the objects of discrimination in the movie.

What do we learn from The Greatest Showman about the human experience? ›

We are just as worthy of celebration as any other human being. Our differences are the gifts that can make us successful, not prevent success. With a strong confidence in ourselves, we're able to make the best possible decisions without having to overcompensate to impress others.

Why were trapeze artists considered freaks? ›

It's important to know that the original Barnum circus, as depicted in the film, is a far cry from modern-day circuses, with clowns and pyrotechnics and trapeze artists. They were called “freak shows” because they showcased people that the larger society saw as, well, “freaks”.

Who does Anne end up with in The Greatest Showman? ›

After the show, Barnum introduces Anne to Phillip. Phillip quickly falls in love with Anne, and soon she begins to reciprocate his feelings.

Did they use real elephants in The Greatest Showman? ›

No wonder the The Greatest Showman used computer generated animals rather than real beasts. PETA vice president Lisa Lange said the animal rights charity met the production team before filming began, urging them not to gloss over the grisly subject matter.

Did Zac Efron have a stunt double in Greatest Showman? ›

We recently caught up with Germantown Academy graduate Josh Fried '06, who was Zac Efron's stunt double in the hit film The Greatest Showman, which is currently showing in theaters across the country.

Did Zendaya get hurt in The Greatest Showman? ›

Zac Efron, Zendaya got bruised during filming of The Greatest Showman.

Can Zendaya really sing? ›

The 26-year-old actress was formerly a singer as well, but she now wants to focus only on acting. She became well-known thanks to the Disney Musical sitcom Shake it up, and in 2009, she sang a cover of Katy Perry's Hot n Cold on Kidz Bop. Soon after, Zendaya discovered her knack for music.

Did Zac Efron sing in The Greatest Showman? ›

Let's not forget, Zac played Phillip Carlyle in 2017's The Greatest Showman, and provided vocals for 'The Greatest Show', 'The Other Side' and 'Rewrite the Stars'.

Is Carlyle supposed to be Bailey? ›

The Carlyle character is a flimsy substitution for the real James Anthony Bailey, who lent his name to the tent-show version of Barnum's circus. The movie portrays Carlyle as a playwright who invests in the show; in truth, Bailey was a circus ringmaster who had worked with several big tops before uniting with Barnum.

Are the kids in The Greatest Showman twins? ›

Chang and Eng Bunker, the conjoined twin brothers portrayed by Yusaku Komori and Danial Son, are razzle-dazzle song and dance men in The Greatest Showman, displaying their Shannon Holtzapffel choreographed moves.

Why do we sing to Jesus? ›

Music has a way of piercing into the deep parts of our soul, that assists in our expression and response to God and to the church. Singing helps unites us to the church. The gospel alone unites believers to one another. However, music is a tool that allows us to do so.

Does God want us to sing in church? ›

Ephesians 5:19 says, “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” It is to him and about him that we sing! Singing has such a unique way of bringing your heart, soul, mind, and strength together to focus entirely and completely on God.

What religion was Barnum? ›

As a teenager in the 1820s, Barnum became disenchanted with the Congregationalists' dogma regarding salvation; he turned instead to Universalist teachings, based on the belief in a loving and forgiving God and the possibility of “universal” salvation.

What happened to P. T. Barnum's wife? ›

It was on one of Barnum's journeys in 1873 that, after 44 years of marriage, Charity died of heart failure. Barnum learned of the sad news in Germany and, grief stricken, decided to stay in Europe.

Why did people not like The Greatest Showman? ›

Criticism included that it didn't cover the true story of Barnum's circus in a fulfilling way and that it was shallow and watered down. Thus, critics set up The Greatest Showman to be a massive commercial failure for the studio – a similar fate to that experienced by later musical Tom Hooper's Cats.

What happened to P. T. Barnum's daughter? ›

One daughter died in childhood; another was dropped from his will for committing adultery.

Does his wife leave him in The Greatest Showman? ›

During the climax of the movie, Barnum's wife, Charity, leaves him when he returns from his truncated tour with Jenny Lind because she sees a newspaper picture of Barnum and Jenny kissing, and also because he mortgaged their house and gambled the entire circus on the tour that got cut short, which means they're now ...

Why does Charity's father slap PT and forbid him from seeing his daughter? ›

He doesn't want his daughter to become friends with an upper-class tailor's son. He knew PT well and didn't like the person he was.

What did P. T. Barnum do that was bad? ›

In one egregious example, he bought a blind, severely debilitated African-American woman named Joice Heth and advertised her as “the Greatest Natural and National Curiosity in the World.” He described himself as the “proprietor of the negress” even though slavery had been abolished in New York seven years earlier.

Who sang for Jenny Lind in The Greatest Showman? ›

Rebecca Ferguson's voice was dubbed by Loren Allred. Ferguson had studied music and admitted that she can carry a tune but since Jenny Lind, her character, is considered the best singer in the world, dubbing her voice would be in service of the movie.

Did P. T. Barnum marry twice? ›

Barnum. They were married until 1891 when Barnum died of a stroke at his home.
...
P. T. Barnum
Spouse(s)Charity Hallett ​ ​ ( m. 1829; died 1873)​ Nancy Fish ​ ( m. 1874)​
Children4
16 more rows

What is the deep meaning of The Greatest Showman? ›

Fundamentally, the show is about resilience. It inverts the story of Barnham and his “Greatest Show” through song, dance, and, of course, humour, which is so often used to deal with intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal culture.

Why did The Greatest Showman take 7 years? ›

Here's what the 49-year-old actor had to share with the mag: On why The Greatest Showman took seven years to make: "I think just the climate of Hollywood was like, 'There's just too many risks. There's too much to do. It's too much, let's not do that anymore.

Who were Barnum's freaks? ›

During the 1840s Barnum began his museum, which had a constantly rotating acts schedule, which included fat people, "living skeletons" (men who appear emaciated), little people, giants, and other people deemed to be freaks.

How did Phillip Carlyle get hurt in The Greatest Showman? ›

At the end of the film, Phillip ran into a burning building to save her, and was hurt in the process.

What did Zendaya have to learn for The Greatest Showman? ›

For her role as a professional acrobat in The Greatest Showman, the 21-year-old actress learned how to work the trapeze, how to catch in the air, and how to trust that her co-star Zac Efron wouldn't drop her from 20-feet high.

What diseases are in The Greatest Showman? ›

Conjoined twins, dwarfism, albinism are all part of Barnum's circus. The famed Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick is thought to have had either Neurofibromatosis (NF1) or Proteus Syndrome.

What is the meaning of this is me? ›

“This Is Me” is all about standing up for yourself, being proud of who you are, accepting yourself with all your deformities and insecurities. And, yes, loving yourself even when there's nobody else around you who loves you back.

What is the overall message of the film The Human Experience? ›

This story was truly inspirational and reminds us that, no matter how different people may be in culture, religion, or background, they are all human and deserve the love of others. Additionally, the score for this film was excellently suited for the content and really made the experience even more rich.

What is the significant human experience dealt within the story? ›

The human experience in literature contains themes about life and society that are relatable to readers. Themes related to the human experience encompass any commentary on society or human nature, such as death, relationships, human rights, or conformity.

What is the point of the human experience? ›

The idea behind the Human Experience is to create experiences that connect with people's purpose, not with the idea of consumption or use. Furthermore, the concept of Human Experience encompasses not only people on the outside but also employees and partners who are part of the company.

Is The Greatest Showman inspirational? ›

The Greatest Showman was a fantastically uplifting film which proved that anyone could rise beyond their station, and here are the film's best quotes.

What is unique about Zendaya in The Greatest Showman? ›

Zendaya can sing, dance and act, and after doing many of her own stunts for The Greatest Showman, she has some trapeze skills under her belt, too.

What disease does Lettie Lutz have? ›

Though surgery has provided Settle with significant stroke-risk reduction, she will be on medication for the rest of her life. After being cast to play the bearded lady Lettie Lutz in the 2017 film The Greatest Showman (2017), actress-singer Settle researched polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Why is The Greatest Showman criticized? ›

Criticism included that it didn't cover the true story of Barnum's circus in a fulfilling way and that it was shallow and watered down. Thus, critics set up The Greatest Showman to be a massive commercial failure for the studio – a similar fate to that experienced by later musical Tom Hooper's Cats.

What does the fourth is with me mean? ›

What does May the Fourth be with you mean? May the Fourth be with you is the catchphrase of Star Wars Day on May 4th, the unofficial holiday celebrating the Star Wars movie franchise. It is a pun on a famous line from Star Wars, May the Force be with you.

What do you mean by you mean the world to me? ›

To mean the world to someone is an idiomatic way of saying they are exceptionally valued and important, often used for love.

What does this is the end of me mean? ›

Be one's downfall, as in His heavy drinking may well be the end of him, or That math assignment will be the end of me. This phrase originally alluded to something that would cause someone's death. Today, while it may be used seriously (as in the first example), it more often is used more lightly (as in the second).

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