Rewriting The Greatest Showman/La La Land narrative
While The Greatest Showman is by no measure of reality the greatest movie musical ever, it's certainly a pretty good one. The musical numbers are amazing, and bringing P.T. Barnum's story to the silver screen feels both timely and measured in today's sociopolitical climate. This might not be a de facto narrative on equal representation and celebrating diversity, but it does tug on the right strings just enough to get the message across. And it does all this while being a very fun movie.
I don't have a system of giving out stars here, but if I did, The Greatest Showman would definitely get a bunch. And full disclosure, this is coming from someone who was just a tad bit obsessed with La La Land. With songs written by La La Land alumni Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the pending release of the film back in December was a personal recipe of 'get excited NOW' for me. And similar to La La Land, the songs are fantastic. Out of the nine pieces written by Pasek and Paul, I dare say that there isn't a single bad one. In fact, there isn't even a single mediocre one of the batch. It's a rare instance of when you might play through an entire musical soundtrack and not want to skip a single track. Zac Efron and Zendaya can both sing, which I guess we already knew. But Keala Settle? Like many others, I'm not particularly well versed in the Broadway scene, so her powerhouse performance was a welcoming surprise.
And the musicality of The Greatest Showman is perhaps what separates it from La La Land. With Pasek and Paul's involvement in both films, there's understandably been some comparisons between the two. But to compare the two as entries in the musical genre just wouldn't be fair. Because whereas The Greatest Showman is unquestionably a movie musical and succeeds so dearly at being one, La La Land succeeded the way it did because it was unquestionably a great film, void of being identified as one specific genre.
To classify La La Land as a musical wouldn't be entirely inaccurate, but Damien Chazelle crafted something that was first and foremost a film. Period. It just happened to have musical elements within it, and in a masterful way, blended the musical, drama and comedy sub-genres into a single cinematic experience. The film lives and breathes cinema, and personally, it's the reason why I still can't get over how good it is. This isn't to take away from The Greatest Showman and what it does as an entry to the cinematic catalogue, but I just think the aim of Michael Gracey et al. was slightly different. They were hoping to make an excellent musical, clear and simple. And oh boy did they do just that.
Putting things into perspective though, maybe the narrative and comparisons don't really matter at all. The Greatest Showman currently sits at a bit over $170 million domestically (~$400 million including international sales), which is comparable to La La Land's $151 million domestic run (~$446 million internationally). This speaks volume to how well audiences have responded to both films, which is ultimately what really matters (in most cases, anyways, but we won't get into that now!). The Great Showman is no La La Land, but that was never its intention. The only binding narrative between the two films is that Pasek and Paul are musical geniuses who are definitely (and thankfully) here to stay.