Matilda Singer reviews hit film The Greatest Showman
Experiencing unexpected success at the box office, showstopper The Greatest Showman portrays the life of P.T. Barnum and the history of his infamous circus. Critics have unsurprisingly been critical of the film, and yet it still draws hugely positive audience ratings. This is likely thanks to its spectacular choreography and wonderfully empowering songs that you will be humming (or belting out) all the way home. But despite the entertainment value of this film and my known love of musicals, unfortunately I am with the critics on this one.
For starters, the plot makes little sense. As a musical theatre fan, this might seem a slightly hypocritical argument to make as musicals often rely heavily on the audience suspending their belief, but I really cannot stress the absurdity of this particular narrative. Admittedly it started well and I was quite taken by the story of Barnum’s impoverished childhood dreaming of bigger things. But it was all downhill from here, getting madder and madder with every tuneful interlude. Most obviously, there was the character of Jenny Lynd, one of the most renowned operatic singers of the 19th century, abruptly introduced in this story as a pretty actress lip syncing a very average pop song. In a similar way, the love story between Zac Efron and Zendaya – communicated only by brief disingenuous moments where they catch each other’s eyes across the circus tent – is one of the most unlikely pairings I’ve observed on screen. What really tipped it over the edge for me was the way we had Barnum riding a trumpeting elephant down the streets of London to join his family at the theatre after almost leaving his wife.
Turning now to the more serious issues I have with this film, we find ourselves in a discussion concerning the representation of individuals with disabilities, or to put it more accurately, the huge under-representation of these figures in Hollywood. Save for General Tom Thumb, a performer with dwarfism, none of the disabled characters forming part of Barnum’s circus were played by actors with disabilities. They were able-bodied Hollywood actors with an array of prosthetic masks, excessive stage make up and clever costumes. Not only is this a missed opportunity for actors and actresses that perfectly fit the bill and are often shunned from other roles due to their disfigurements, but it is likely to be a disappointing realisation for any viewers out there who had hoped they might finally see someone like themselves on screen. Finally, we cannot fail to mention the problematic nature of P.T. Barnum himself. Well-known as a racist, sexist, ableist animal abuser, it astounds me that he is so easily transformed into a likeable triumphant hero for this performance.
All in all, The Greatest Showman is a sugar sweet spectacle that unfortunately leaves a slightly bitter taste in your mouth.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons