The Greatest Showman (2017) may have earned a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes (Branding the film as ROTTEN) however it has struck a chord with audiences grossing over $237 million worldwide (against an $84 million production budget). The majority of people I know who have seen the film absolutely love it and have seen it multiple times; it’s great to see how the film has had such an impact and brought joy to people.
The reason for this blog post is because I’ve heard people raving about The Greatest Showman and some have even compared it to the Oscar winning La La Land (2016) by saying it’s a stronger musical. To set the record straight I did like The Greatest Showman but if people suggest that it is a better musical than La La Land...then I don’t know what else to say than in my opinion it’s not. First of all they are different films but if I had to compare La La Land is my favourite of the two.
I’ll start by saying what I enjoyed about The Greatest Showman: the soundtrack is a solid effort from Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul delivering some standout original songs. I love the Golden Globe winning/Oscar nominated song “This Is Me”, “The Greatest Show”, “The Other Side”, “Never Enough” and “Rewrite the Stars”. The positive thing about this film is that it is assured in its identity as a musical that is meant to inject joy into audiences, it doesn’t try to be anything else and is clear in what its meant to be.
Secondly, Hugh Jackman (who was nominated a Golden Globe for his role as P.T. Barnum) carried the film effortlessly on his shoulders. You can understand why because he was passionate about the role even to the point where he was involved in getting the project made for seven years! Hugh is no stranger to musicals on screen (he was nominated an Oscar for his performance in Les Miserables – 2012) and he relishes in bringing P.T. Barnum to the screen to bring audiences together for a fun ride.
Lastly it’s great how the film explores the themes of acceptance and embracing everyone from all different walks of life (which is encapsulated so well in the song “This Is Me”). Whilst it may have been done in a sugary affair, it’s still an important theme and a one that I believe has resonated with audiences, especially in such a divided world.
However, the difference between La La Land and The Greatest Showman is that the former is stronger in every area of the film whereas the latter may be strong in its identity as a musical but as a story and character development it’s lacking. I understand you can’t approach The Greatest Showman as a full on biopic otherwise it may be a more morbid affair but in being brash in its musicality it does suffer from there being any grounded nature to the film and in turn it feels more lightweight. The film is definitely more about the songs than anything else. Also to compare numbers: La La Land grossed over $446 million worldwide (against a $30 million budget) and scored 92% on Rotten Tomatoes (Branding the film as FRESH). On top of wowing audiences AND critics the film had a clean sweep at the Golden Globes winning seven awards (the most won by a single film) and won six Academy Awards last year.
Now with La La Land it’s more intimate as it follows mainly two characters: Mia (Oscar winner Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling) in their relationship and their journey of trying to follow their dreams. The film starts off strong in embracing its identity as a musical with big songs such as “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone In The Crowd” however it doesn’t shy away from having tonal shifts to embrace the more real elements of life without it feeling jarring.
I love how it is a full on musical but also an more focused film in terms of pacing and character study. The film evolves at its own pacing which doesn’t feel forced or rushed and then it becomes more about the decisions the characters have to make about their futures and reviewing their hopes and desires. One of my favourite scenes is when Sebastian surprises Mia with a meal when he comes home from tour, it’s a conversational scene where everything is explored (regarding where they’ve come from and where they hope to be in the future) that becomes an argument in a very mature and organic way. The dialogue doesn’t feel overtly sentimental or emotional, the tone is just right. The film can be strong in its musical scenes as well as its character scenes.
Also I love how throwback La La Land is, it has a strong Singin’ in the Rain (1952) vibe and the jazz infused soundtrack is classic and beautiful. Even the instrumental tracks are soothing and exciting, especially the “Epilogue” score. The Oscar winning cinematography is stunning with the vibrant colours and and striking settings (most notably when Mia and Sebastian first dance together after the party they’ve been to and when inside the Planetarium). Not to mention the incredible Epilogue scene which was very bittersweet, giving the audiences what could have been whilst being bold by saying life doesn’t always go as planned.
At the end of the day it’s all subjective and down to personal taste. For me The Greatest Showman was a good musical, but nothing more. Where as La La Land for me has so many layers, classic songs and visuals and Oscar winning acting/direction/cinematography. They are both different films in what they are representing and to both of their credit they are original musicals which is always welcome. By all means say how much you enjoyed The Greatest Showman but personally I don’t think it’s the masterpiece audiences have made it out to be.
Feel free to share your opinions!