Review: 'The Greatest Showman' Delivers Sawdust and Sequins

According to critics, The Greatest Showman dazzles, but is that necessarily a good thing?

The film paints a portrait of Barnum as a dream seeker looking to bust out of his humble life to achieve something grand. What that becomes is a troupe of oddities — including Tony winner Keala Settle as the Bearded Lady — that will come to establish the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Read more reviews below.

Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“The Greatest Showman is a good old-fashioned wholesome 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.”

Jason Zinoman (The New York Times)
“The Greatest Showman, a montage sequence that occasionally turns into a movie musical, steers clear of any contemporary resonance and ignores meaty themes. The first-time director Michael Gracey achieves an aggressively synthetic style through kinetic editing and tidy underdog stories, but none of the true joy of pulling a fast one. It’s a standard-issue holiday biopic, one that tells a story about a populist entertainer hungry for highbrow respect, the joys of showbiz and the price of ambition. An amusement park version of P.T. Barnum is fine, as far as that goes, but if you are going to aim for family-friendly fun, you need to get the fun part right.”

Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair)
“If you start your big musical movie with a song called ‘The Greatest Show,’ you’re setting up some pretty big expectations. One could almost call it hubris, though that word suggests a kind of aggro arrogance. The Greatest Showman—the new movie musical which houses ‘The Greatest Show’—is slightly more humble than that. The film may be a vessel for some noxious, platitudinous cynicism, but there’s nevertheless something still quaint about it. It mostly just wants you to have a nice time, it insists; to feel cheered and uplifted as a big, lumbering elephant carries us off a cliff. Which isn’t to say the movie is good. It isn’t, really. The Greatest Showman—about P.T. Barnum putting together the first modern circus—is a labor of love for its star, huggable old Hugh Jackman, who has been trying to get this film made for the better part of a decade. So I feel a little bad using my sharpest words to cut it down, but such are the pains of my profession. Still, it’s by no means a total wash.”

The Greatest Showman hits cinemas Boxing Day.

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