Dateline v. The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (2017)

Rated PG: For Minimal Themes and Violence

Running Time: 105 minutes (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama, Musical

Released on December 20, 2017 (US Release Date; Available For Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Chernin Entertainment, Seed Productions, Laurence Mark Productions, TSG Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox

Partly Based on a True Story

Writers: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon

Director: Michael Gracey

  • Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum
  • Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle
  • Michelle Williams as Charity Hallett Barnum
  • Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind
  • Zendaya as Anne Wheeler

Because basically nobody ever stops singing the songs from the film's soundtrack, we feel that it is high time for us to review the newest version  of Frozen. We call it as such because, like that movie, its most famous songs are overplayed to death.

The defendant has been accused of taking too much advantage of Hollywood's favorite weapon, "artistic license", and once more playing the "style over substance" game. We will indeed get to the bottom of this case. So help us God. Welcome back to Dateline Movies, and this is the case of Dateline v. The Greatest Showman.

Also, even if a million dreams might be keeping you awake, not enough dreams can change the fact that spoilers are ahead! 


What is the movie about?

P.T. Barnum, played by Jackman (Logan), has had a long streak of bad luck, from being looked down on, to losing his job. Despite the misfortune, his lovely wife Charity, played by Williams (All the Money in the World), and his two daughters, are always there by his side.

His life will take an unexpected turn when he gets a crazy new idea. Fueled by his ambition to prove that one cannot make a difference without being different, Barnum gathers together socialite Philip Carlyle, played by Efron (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile), trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, played by Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming), and eventually, famous opera singer Jenny Lind, played by Ferguson (Life) to form a circus unlike any other.

However, Barnum soon must decide on who he really wants to be in the midst of pressure from people who see his business as nothing more than a waste of space.


The Defense:
  • Hugh Jackman + musicals + a great ensemble = amazing!
Come on. It is Hugh flipping Jackman, a Broadway actor, and a very versatile one, in a musical. You know you are in for a treat! But needless to say, everyone in the cast is just impeccable in the film. And of course, Hugh Jackman adds yet another brilliant performance to his already stellar filmography, and bringing with him is his brilliant singing voice, which mainstream audiences have already beheld in Les Misérables, and has been used to its prime here. He absolutely wins me over with his on-screen chemistry with Michelle Williams, who also shows-off her singing prowess in her solo song, "Tightrope", a melody that tugged a few of my heartstrings because of her heartfelt performance.

Zac Efron is also here, and I have to say, I am more than glad that he is looking to step away from his typecasting as a "dumb jock" actor. I am also glad that he is back to doing what the inner ten year old in me knows that he does best, singing. With this and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, where he will be playing as real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, this is indeed quite a huge improvement. Heck, it really has been a long time since I actually heard him sing (and no, him singing the pretty mediocre end-credits song at Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates does not count). And his on-screen chemistry with Zendaya, who despite having not much to do in her role, still manages to be a notable presence thanks to her magnificent voice, is unmatched. I really do hope to see more of the two of them in other, hopefully bigger roles.

The Greatest Showman has also one of the best line-ups in musical film history. Of course, how could we forget about Kella Settle in her film debut, who portrayed the bearded lady Lettie Lutz in the film. Her stunning vocal work for the song "This is Me" lead her to share a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, which she highly deserves. According to Dad, he, and I, and basically everyone in our family when we watched the film, commend the awesome Daniel "Cloud" Campos, who was the first dancing bartender featured in the musical number, "The Other Side". He danced when no other dancing bartender could. 

And my personal best performance from this movie, among the long list of talented cast members, is Rebecca Ferguson. Fun fact: Rebecca Ferguson did not sing "Never Enough", but rather it was Loren Allred, who competed in 2012 in The X-Factor. I was blown away when I found-out when Ferguson basically did the greatest lip-sync battle in the history of man, but without the battle. I mean, if you could actually convince the audience that it was you who sung it, you really are a talented actress. Keep it up, Ms. Ferguson. Keep it up. And I also do hope to hear more from the talented mystery singer Loren Allred in the coming days.

Just a side-note though. This is not to be disrespectful to Ferguson, but could it not have been easier for Allred to just take over the role of Jenny Lind? I am just saying.

  • Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is beautiful. (Plus, the costumes, choreography, sets, and direction are great.)
The movie is crawling with colorful, and almost unconvincing C.G.I. backgrounds. You can take a look at the black and blue sky backgrounds, and in some scenes, numerous cityscapes, and you can immediately conclude that "yep, these are totally made from a computer". But despite the fact that it does look all too cartoonish, perhaps that really is the point, and the bright and glitzy set-pieces, with the aid of the eye-popping cinematography of Seamus McGarvey, The Greatest Showman achieves its aim to evoke a one-of-a-kind atmosphere.

It really does help that, through Michael Gracey's expert hand behind the camera guiding the entire project, the choreographers' careful aid in the dance numbers, and the artistic pizazz of the designing crew, this film truly does come alive. (At this point, you should be taking a shot for every single subtle soundtrack joke that I made. Have fun.)

I would be having a rather very difficult time in choosing which among the musical numbers are the best, but if I were to choose which among them are included in my top three scenes, then I would be including the introductory "The Greatest Show" sequence, which helps the viewers get a sense on what we are about to expect as Hugh Jackman's P.T. Barnum serenades the crowd with an opening act of wonder. After that, perhaps I would be including "The Other Side" sequence, where P.T. Barnum recruits Zac Efron's Philip Carlyle in a bar, namely because of Campos' gleeful, albeit small, involvement, and the fun interactions between the two leads. My last would have to be the "From Now On" sequence, because P.T. Barnum dancing alongside his friends at the previously mentioned bar to the tune of a somber redemption song, leading to Barnum chase after his family through colorful scenery to make amends, is just beautiful.

  • The positive overall message of "acceptance" is cliched, but truly captivating.
Yes. The classic Aesop of loving yourself. The age-old principle of accepting all of your flaws and all of your weaknesses. The ancient lesson of looking at yourself at the mirror, and saying "this is me". Yes. We have all heard it before in countless other movies, from superhero flicks such as the X-Men franchise, to timeless classics such as The Elephant Man, to something as old as the Bible. But even if we have heard this timeless parable, The Greatest Showman somehow still manages to make this theme noteworthy, and above all effective, which proves that if you just put a little effort into even the most mundane of messages, you can still make something golden.

And even if I am not all up for the preachy type of theme exploration, I commend this film giving some heartfelt moments that tackled the idea of acceptance, including Barnum inviting dwarf performer Charles Stratton, played by Sam Humphrey (Neighbours), into becoming one of his first co-performers for the circus, and the entirety of the "This Is Me" and "Rewrite The Stars" sequences, with the latter tackling the subject the best as it makes use of the traditional "star-crossed" lovers perspective.

  • With the genius lyricists for La La Land writing the songs, what more can you ask for?
Did you love La La Land for its catchy songs? Obviously you did, because who would not. In fact, the producers of this film knew that you would be clamoring for the same type of musical wonder, so they decided to bring Benj Pasek and Justin Paul to create the songs for this flick. There really is no competition among the songs, because honestly, all of them are truly spellbinding, and because they are all wonderful, let me briefly explain as to why they are all great in their own unique way.

"The Greatest Show", an entrance antiphon performed by the film's ensemble, and headlined by Hugh Jackman, is one of the greatest opening songs that I have ever heard of, and it perfectly sets-up the mood for the rest of the film

"A Million Dreams", while being the least favorite of mine, but not in an incredibly negative light, is a great showcase for the singing talents of Ziv Zaifman, the singing voice of Ellis Rubin, who played a younger P.T. Barnum at the beginning of the film, and Skylar Dunn, the younger Charity Barnum. "Come Alive" is just a catchy and upbeat montage song, gushing with ferocious energy. "The Other Side" is simply brilliant because of the magnificent team-up between Jackman and Efron, as they sing together a brotherly symphony about joining the circus, and getting away from the "same old part".

"Never Enough", which should have also been nominated for an Oscar, is a very sentimental reflection on Barnum's developing struggles and seemingly unquenchable thirst for recognition, bolstered by Loren Allred's vocals. "This Is Me" is the ultimate acceptance ballad for everyone, reminding all that no matter the adversity, we are stronger than those obstacles, lead by a powerful performance from Keala Settle.

"Rewrite The Stars" is the radio hit of the summer, and is a brilliant romantic-themed duet between Efron and Zendaya. "Tightrope" is a great showcase for Michelle Williams' vocal range, as she sings about her life being with the man whom she loves, and the unpredictability of their marriage in the midst of issues. And "From Now On" is the best way to gently close a pretty entertaining movie, featuring Jackman singing an optimistic melody of redemption, all the while performing with the rest of the ensemble.

If that is not enough to convince you to listen to the entire song, then I do not know what will. And also, "Rewrite The Stars", made by the same writers of "City of Stars" from La La Land. Add "All The Stars" from Black Panther, and you might notice that Hollywood has a certain liking for the astronomical object.

The Prosecution:

  • Philip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler's love story is rushed.

  • Okay fine. This movie really is entertaining. I really did enjoy watching this one, and I had a lot of fun writing about all of the positive things the film had. But despite the glitz and glamor, the story is sadly the film's Achilles' heel. Cliche after cliche, you can pretty much put the entire plot of the movie in this very section of this review, and just say that The Greatest Showman itself is one big steaming pile of worn-out tropes. But for me, the inevitably least effective among all of the running plot threads is the love story between Philip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler. The musical number featuring "Rewrite The Stars" did its best to keep this plot line as relatable as possible, but truthfully, how on God's good green Earth could an on-screen couple be together after the man literally just tried to hold your hand during one singing segment? And don't even bother raising the whole "love at first sight" trash. Love, be it in real life, or a fictional medium, does not work like that, at all, ever. It is a shame, considering that the actors in question had remarkable chemistry, and to see the obviously rushed subplot put all of that effort to waste is just disheartening for me.

    Sorry Zac and Zendaya, even if you did rewrite the stars, you still could not convince me otherwise to change my mind.

    • The actual story has been overly simplified for no particular reason.
    And speaking of cliches, there are a lot of them, and in effect, it made the movie adamantly lacking in depth. This means that, in favor of keeping it as simple as a children's fable, complete with a simplified exploration of a moral lesson and the possible consequences of not fulfilling said principle, The Greatest Showman, if you remove the songs and all the things that I said made the film watchable, is effectively just as boring as watching paint dry. The overall story structure itself is a superbly simple underdog parable. Protagonist dreams big. Protagonist loses big. Protagonist keeps big. We are discussing a fictionalized account of a real-life person here, in the person of Barnum & Bailey Circus founder P.T. Barnum, and provided the real world basis, one should have had a lot of complex themes and stories to cover. Alas, it is all for nothing. Look, I know the studios want to make the movie as accessible as possible to people of all ages, and by doing so most of the appealing complexity of the subject matter is sacrificed. But if you want to make a greatly groundbreaking story that honors the true-to-life person that inspired your story, you might as well as have some gravitas to your movie. So please, walk that tightrope, and add some depth.

    The worst offender is that literally all of the characters are walking tropes, including P.T. Barnum being the "underdog protagonist", Philip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler the "Romeo and Juliet", Charity Barnum as the "moral support love interest", Jenny Lind as the "manifestation of the protagonist's inner desires", and Lettie Lutz as the "likable supporting character". Cliches are usually unavoidable, but it is never enough to just settle for stock characters.

    The Ruling: Not Guilty!

    Despite its shortcomings on the narrative front, The Greatest Showman is a rare case of "style over substance" actually being entertaining, with earworm-inducing songs, likable castings, and some topnotch production value.

    And that was The Greatest Showman, a fine movie that is definitely worth your time, even if it really is not at all innovative. From now on, do remind us to avoid inserting movie-related puns in our posts, but then again, where is the fun in that. Before you officially leave our humble abode of a website, please do take a look at three songs straight from the film's soundtrack. be sure to check them all out on Spotify, dear readers, and stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!


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