Aside from The Disaster Artist, the mention of The Room while talking about a film is a death notice. So, Hugh Jackman and Co., this is your notice. The Greatest Showman is as magnetic as Tommy Wiseau’s masterpiece.
Of course, The Room only carries an ironic legacy. It’s a horrible film — which The Greatest Showman is not — yet it’s been in theaters on a constant rotation for the past 15 years in every major metro area. Despite its immense flaws that thousands of indie films share, there’s something that keeps people crawling back for more.
While on the press tour for The Disaster Artist, the Franco brothers described the phenomenon of The Room coming from the passion Wiseau put into the project. He self-funded the operation, was as meticulous as Stanley Kubrick (as ridiculous and paradoxical as that sounds) and beyond all else, believed in his misguided vision. Even without knowing the backstory and the cult personality of Wiseau, that passion shines through and the shell of an actual masterpiece creeps through.
Jackman’s P.T. Barnum passion project that took seven years to get off the ground shares that same thread. It’s a story about a visionary that’d sacrifice not only his money but his morality and conscience to become bigger than he was. Details of Barnum’s life and namesake circus like the public autopsy of a slave that put Barnum on the map are left out. Revisionist and whitewashing aside, it’s thoroughly enjoyable- or at the very least, has the audience anxious for the next enjoyable scene.
The two also have reputations that proceed themselves. The Room is the best-worst movie ever made while The Greatest Showman is Circus Musical, the film that all of Film Twitter loved to bash before it was even screened. They’re both easy targets but ultimately overcome by their leading men.
Like Wiseau, it’s hard to turn away from Jackman who might be the greatest showman of the century. Like all his performances and off-screen persona, he breeds charisma, not only for himself but lifts everyone else up around him. First-time helmer Michael Gracey should be thanking his stars that Wolverine was able to keep his claws in for this one.
Gracey’s direction, by and large, leaves a lot to be desired. If this was a drama, it probably wouldn’t even qualify as melodrama. Bill Condon and Jenny Bicks’ script is dry and overly predictable but as a musical, it’s a breath of fresh air. Every set piece — while occasionally overproduced — is a joy to watch and where Gracey at least comes to play. Even if he was in over his head, watching Jackman and Zac Efron dance around a bar like Gene Kelly and Don O’Connor is escapism at its finest.
If there’s one thing Gracey nailed, it’s the opening number being introduced with silent title cards. While the timeline between Barnum’s dream and movies don’t match up at all (off by a few decades), Gracey along with Jackman’s velvet vocals and an engaging chorus inform the audience this isn’t a movie but a time machine.
This isn’t just a film walking around in fancy clothes and outdated hats, it’s an ode to a colorful era where feelings and story are sung in front of colorful backdrops. Sadly, the moments between the brilliant set pieces aren’t as interesting as the movies its inspired by, but they at least keep the audience anxiously awaiting the next number.
So no, this won’t become a cult classic like The Room and it’s certainly not as objectively bad. If The Greatest Showman is about making your dreams come true, the cast and crew definitely did just that. That’s infectious. Hopefully, the box office agrees and studios begin to greenlight more original musicals, we need more of these.