Feb 14th, 2018, 03:00 PM

Film Review: The Greatest Showman

By Clara Prado
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Mavelus
Ready to join the freak show?

The Greatest Showman, released in France on January 24th is this year's newest musical sensation. With actors such as Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, and Zendaya, there is no lack of talent. Michael Gracey, famous for directing the anime series Naruto, combines with choreographer Ashley Wallen of Moulin Rouge and Oscar and Tony-winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul to create an incredible film in all aspects. The film represents the struggle of people of color in New York in the 19th century, a period where everyone who was not white was labeled as an outsider.

The musical tells the story of  P. T. Barnum played by Hugh Jackman. An American pioneer in the creation of “freak shows”, Barnum became famous because of the Barnum & Bailey Circus' presentation of "The Greatest Show on Earth". Barnum came from a simple background, married Charriet Barnum (Michelle Williams) with no support from her family, and made it to fortune with his circus business.

The cruel reality of freak shows in the 19th century is explored, focusing on the hardships that black artists had to endure at the time. Barnum was desperate to improve his way of life, as he and his troupe faced criticism and shame from New York's intense social racism. It is visible that Jackman’s character is a businessman, as the film underlines how he made use of every opportunity that he had, asserting himself with an impeccable confidence to overcompensate the rejection he suffered as a child. “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else”, a quote from the film, explains his unique way of making business in the 19th century.

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox / Niko Tavernise


It is impossible to not comment on Zac Efron's performance as Phillip, a young bourgeois who was well-known for his career as a theater director. It was refreshing to see the talented Efron doing something that truly explores his talent as a singer, dancer, and actor that has not been seen High school musical. The scenes of interaction with Jackman at the bar show all the talent that has been hidden due to his roles in romantic comedies. His character’s evolution regarding the racial issues presented in the movie, as he is a white male from a racist privileged family who falls in love with a black woman, gives the film a certain depth.

Zendaya plays the character of Anne Wheeler, the trapeze artist who falls in love with Efron's character Phillips. Her evolution as an actress proves that she is not only a Disney princess. Her character's approach to racism is the most marked in the movie, yet is not the most effective. Unfortunately, the chemistry as a couple was missing a spark, perhaps due to the nine-year age gap between the two actors. The difference contributed to the visible lack of intimacy in the film.

The star of the show is Keala Settle playing the role of Lettie Lutz, a large, bearded woman who discovered her talent and sense of self when joining the circus. Her amazing voice, the depth of her character, and her incredible costumes created the perfect environment to allow Settle's acting skills to shine. Although a secondary character for the narrative, Lutz creates a lot of the emotional curves of the movie. The lyrics sung by her,  “Look out 'cause here I come... I am not scared to be seen, I make no apologies,” send a strong message of acceptance.

Following the new Hollywood-style musical set by La La Land, the film tells an old story with contemporary music, colors, and imagination. The Greatest Showman is well choreographed, composed of accurate yet beautiful costumes, with a rich set design and evocative songs. Each detail builds into the historical context while creating an enticing film. The mise-en-scene makes this film appealing to youth who otherwise would not watch old Technicolor musicals. Overall, The greatest showman is a spectacle worth seeing on a big screen.