A couple weeks ago, I saw the film The Greatest Showman at a nearby cinema and since then, I’ll admit with no shame that I’ve been to see it two more times. That considered, this review will be equally a recommendation. For those who haven’t heard of this movie, in a nutshell, it portrays the life story of P.T. Barnum and how he created the art of show-business. Without giving too many spoilers, here’s what stood out to me about this film.
The first thing is the soundtrack – arguably one of the most important things about a musical! I find very often with musicals there will be two or three songs that are well known, while the rest lack what it takes to make a song memorable. This is not the case with The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack; not only is every song well-written and well-composed, they also all fit the theme of the film without seeming repetitive as well as adding to the plot without forcing unnecessary dialogue into the lyrics.
Secondly, the casting for this film was very well done. Just consider the number of cast members who are a triple threat (proficient at dancing, singing, and acting)! There are also a few child actors cast in this movie, which can be hit or miss, simply because they are not – understandably – as well-trained or as professional as older actors. In other films, this is often avoided by having children cast as characters who look young for their age, or avoiding having them play a main part in the story. Neither of these were the case for this movie, as some extremely talented child actors were featured. Additional kudos go to the choreographer, Ashley Wallen, for her masterful work in coordinating large group routines in complex sets.
Something I find that musicals can sometimes suffer from is over-exposition. This comes from the fear that an audience might not understand the plot through means other than outright dialogue. This fear leads to pauses in the middle of songs for dialogue exchanges which undermine the flow – and usually involve unnecessarily repeating something that is already being portrayed in the song. The Greatest Showman does not do this. It puts its faith in the audience, trusting them to pick up on subtleties without feeling the need to force these ideas into dialogue.
The great thing about cinema is that it has the power to tell us a story through more than just dialogue. The score, visuals, camera angles, and scene transitions all have the power to speak far louder than what the characters alone are saying. This film presents such a rich story because these techniques are all used to add colour and depth to the plot. For example, during the first ovation Barnum receives for his show, the film’s sound is completely cut out at first, adding immensely to the impact of the scene.
Finally, and possibly one of the best things about this movie, watching The Greatest Showman gives the audience a genuine feeling of joy. Let me be clear, the movie is not happy all the way through – there are ups and downs in the journey of the characters, but in the end, it leaves you smiling. Before the film’s credits rolled, the screen fills with a quote from P.T. Barnum, “The noblest art is that of making others happy” – and that’s exactly what this film did.