The Greatest Showman: Spectacular Showmanship, Stale Plot

If you are a fan of musicals and showmanship, certainly you would enjoy this movie.

By Sean David Hartman

It was certainly the greatest show, but not the greatest story.

People have continued to praise The Greatest Showman for it’s spectacular visual effects and fantastic musical numbers, comparing it to Oscar-nominated La La Land. And it is certainly a masterpiece in those regards, with wonderful musical numbers and beautiful special effects that dazzle and wonder. But just like a Barnum & Bailey Circus, it’s all flash and no class.

The film is an over-exaggeration of the life of P.T. Barnum, the inventor of showmanship. The movie glosses over the blackface minstrels and his conman attitude, to paint him as a loving family man with childlike wonderment.

Hugh Jackman, with both the mystique and singing voice of a god, plays this highly fictionalized version of Barnum quite well, but sadly, the lackluster performances from his family and the poor writing made his personal relationships unbelievable and droll.

Zac Efron also steals the show with his musical numbers, shining brighter than his High School Musical days. The duet of Efron and Jackman was filled with spectacular choreography down to the background actors, and of course, Keala Settle’s performance of “This Is Me” shows its worthiness of an Academy Award.

Despite the wonderful musical numbers and the stunning visual colors, the show fails with a weak plot and confusing character development.

Outside of Jackman’s marriage and family, and the fake love experienced there, the show moves Barnum to developing the confidence and prowess of his troupe, to suddenly abandoning them for the quest of fame, to returning for that heartfelt moral that it was them all along that mattered.

Fantastic as Settle is as the bearded lady, it feels she is the only one of the “freaks” in which I could achieve any amount of personal connection, but that was due to her song and not through the screenwriting. Neither the bearded lady, nor General Tom Thumb, nor Dog Boy, got any major development outside of the recognition that they were outcasts to society due to their looks.

The story tried to tie in a pro-disability message, but the message was stale and is more an insult than anything else. The film tries to use the “freaks” as analogous to the disabled community, with one scene seeing the bearded lady smiling at a limp “Tiny Tim” character, as if to say “If I can do it, you can do it!”

But the great moral was so uninspired that it did more damage to the allegory than benefit.

If you are a fan of musicals and showmanship, certainly you would enjoy this movie. But if you are expecting a thought-out plot, with beautifully-woven characters and a strong moral message, then you would be a sucker to see this movie.


Sean Hartman is a Junior at the University of Central Florida, studying Political Science. He previously served as the Vice President of the Southwest Florida Young Republicans and as Assistant Regional Coordinator to the Ted Cruz For President campaign. He described himself as a “Professional Political Nuisance” and labels his political views as “classical liberalism”.