Woo, first post and first movie review of 2018! Let’s dive right into this.
The Greatest Showman deserves every award it’s nominated for and more. I haven’t felt this emotionally boosted and moved by a flick since…well, okay, Moana. (Lin-Manuel Miranda gets me every time.)
Movie musicals are often a hard sell, but with TGS and 2017’s La La Land, they may be on the rise. But I believe the former has shown us all–filmmakers, critics, and casual viewers alike–how to make a truly beloved musical film. Let me explain.
***Ahoy! Spoilers ahead!***
What is a musical? It’s happy. You’re supposed to leave the theater feeling happier than when you came in. Sure, there are the rule breakers like Les Mis, but the whole point of musical numbers are to evoke emotion, and when you have a diverse cast in colorful costumes inviting you to the circus, how can you expect to feel any way but joyful? The songs and plot are so much more fun than watching two people struggle for a career and whine and be in a miserable relationship with each other. It’s obvious how much fun Hugh Jackman is having in this movie, and his natural charisma and sweetness oozes out in ways he’s not normally allowed to show.
2. Good, Well Sung Music
TGS stars major musical talent: Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron, as well as Broadway power from Keala Settle. Nearly every song was memorable and is sure to make one want to sing along. LLL had two songs of note: the opening number, which had the most charisma of the whole movie because it was actually entertaining and didn’t involve the lukewarm romantic leads, and “City Of Stars” because its monotonous seven-note piano riff gets played over and over throughout the entire movie and gets stuck in your head for a week after watching it. Plus Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are actors, not singers. Gosling sounds half asleep for most of the numbers he’s involved in and Emma Stone, apart from the audition song toward the end, sounds like she’s getting over a case of laryngitis. I know the point isn’t the singing, but for a movie with as high a production quality and as much Oscar buzz as it got, it was an immense letdown.
3. Engaging Romance
Efron and Zendaya immediately have 10x the chemistry that Stone and Gosling had. Maybe that’s just because their characters were so much more likable. Stone plays a bratty, self important, wannabe actress who is either good or bad at acting as the script demands it, and Gosling is an elitist hipster douche who shouts over jazz bands to mansplain what an amazing lost art jazz is. (Also, it’s really irritating watching a white person completely appropriate black culture all for his greedy little hipster self while John Legend, a really talented black musician, is barely a cameo in this movie and his opinions on jazz are chucked in the bin because he added synths and that’s just too mainstream for Mr. Jazz Jesus over here.)
Once all the dazzle of new Hollywood romance fades away, Mia and Sebastian do nothing but spend time apart to focus on their careers or bitch at each other for not being supportive enough because both of them are narcissistic assholes. Zendaya and Efron’s love story gets about 1/4 the amount of screen time that Stone and Gosling had, yet they manage to make you care about their relationship way more effectively. Maybe it’s because their main obstacle is period racism and not each other.
4. A Heavily Featured Ensemble
Even though this is a
highly inaccurate because P.T. Barnum was a jerkass con man in real life biofic about the man who invented the circus, the other characters are significant in the movie, and not just props in the protagonist’s story. Efron’s character who is roughly based on James Anthony Bailey, Barnum’s family, and of course, the members of the circus, all get their fair due. My favorite character is probably Lettie, the bearded woman. She could have easily been made into a cheap joke about women with masculine features, but she is arguably the character with the strongest spirit, develops from an insecure washerwoman to a proud performer and shows leadership skills with the rest of the troupe, and leads the most acclaimed number in the whole film, “This Is Me”. La La Land makes the mistake of focusing solely on Mia and Sebastian, who I’ve already defined as uninteresting and unlikable.
La La Land has none of the charm that Greatest Showman has in spades. Also it is incredibly shallow. Now, a good movie doesn’t necessarily have to send some profound message about society or morality, but without charm or wit, it can feel about as vapid as an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Greatest Showman touches on serious subjects like racism and classism without ever crossing over into heavy handed self-importance. La La Land‘s message is more or less, “I deserve to have all my dreams come true because I’m in Los Angeles and I’m giving the absolute minimal effort to be successful and I’m young and attractive.” Greatest Showman‘s message is simple, and a little cliché, but true: “Don’t be a sell out.”
Man, I didn’t realize how much I hated La La Land until I wrote this review.
Anyway, it may be way too early to say, but I think The Greatest Showman is going to end up being my favorite film of 2018. Like I said, it deserves every award. ~TRL