One critic calls Hugh Jackman's new movie "a disappointing circus of thinly developed characters" while another critic says "Pitch Perfect" sequel has "air of flop-sweat desperation."
"The Greatest Showman" stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, who created early 20th century circus sensation Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth. Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya and Rebecca Ferguson co-star in musical with tunes from the Oscar-winning songwriter behind "La La Land."
"Pitch Perfect 3" follows the Barden Bella's attempt to reunite after graduation for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour. And if they win, they'll land a gig opening up for music producer DJ Khaled. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow and Ruby Rose star.
After the embargo was lifted this week, reviews for both films have been pouring in on Rotten Tomatoes. At the time this article was written, "The Greatest Showman" had a 46 percent "rotten" rating from 59 counted critics, while "Pitch Perfect 3" only managed a 36 percent score from 36 counted critics.
Read on to see why critics are hating both movies.
"The Greatest Showman"
The soundtrack for the P.T Barnum biopic musical The Greatest Showman is chock full of amazing and catchy tunes you’ll be humming after the credits roll. The actual movie? Send in the clowns.
Michael Gracey’s directorial debut (*½ out of four; rated PG; in theaters Wednesday) is a disappointing circus of thinly developed characters, overly earnest melodrama and song-and-dance sequences that are more like unrelated music videos sewn together for a threadbare narrative. Hugh Jackman’s the ringmaster of this disjointed affair, though it’s not entirely his fault Barnum’s the least interesting part of his own movie.
Has there ever been a movie more hopelessly insecure about its ability to entertain, to matter, to hold your interest, to keep you tap-tap-tapping, than “The Greatest Showman”?
A fidgety, shallow musical with postures instead of characters and anthems instead of tunes, it purports to inspire with the rags-to-riches story of winking 19th century impresario P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), curator of performing animals, mythic humans, and — drum roll, please — dreams.
Yet its empty, loud breathlessness is the real bunk to behold: think trailer for a movie more than movie itself. Or more accurately, think teaser to the trailer to the movie. It’s a broken record of ersatz positivity and empowerment, practically shout-singing at you to be all you can be while it mostly just is what it is, plastic flash without any enduring oomph.
The lyricists are Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, two young men that as far as I can tell are getting away with murder in the musical-theater world right now. They’re best known for this year’s Tony winner Dear Evan Hansen (“So let the sun come streaming in / ’Cause you’ll reach up / And you’ll rise again / Lift your head and look around / You will be found”) and the lyrics to Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (“Someone in the crowd could / Take you where you wanna go / If you’re the someone ready to be found.”) They have lent equal incisiveness to the songs for The Greatest Showman, which have the nondescript sheen of an L.A. pop factory writing camp. When Ferguson’s character hits the chorus of her histrionic Adele-inspired number, she follows it up with an “Umbrella”-esque refrain. I actually gasped with horror.
So, okay, maybe I should take the hint and accept that The Greatest Showman — the circus-man musical starring Hugh Jackman — is, somehow, probably a teen movie. And those teen readers who opened this review and hit Command-F for Zendaya will be happy to know that she’s the best part of this mess.
Its failures are rooted in something deeper: a dispiriting lack of faith in the audience’s intelligence, and a dawning awareness of its own aesthetic hypocrisy. You’ve rarely seen a more straight-laced musical about the joys of letting your freak flag fly.
"Pitch Perfect 3"
This installment has an air of flop-sweat desperation, from the camel-toe joke delivered just minutes into the proceedings to the supposedly hilarious notion of Wilson performing action-movie stunts. The plot machinations — which include Beca dealing with a crisis of conscience while deciding whether to take up DJ Khaled's offer to open for him, but only as a solo act — are beyond tiresome, and not even the appeal and comic chops of the lead actresses are enough to carry them off.
As usual, it's the vigorous song-and-dance numbers that provide the highlights. To be fair, those are excellently performed and choreographed, with director Trish Sie (whose credits include 2014's Step Up All In and numerous OK Go music videos) staging the sequences with admirable proficiency. But what started out as a charmingly offbeat comic premise has inevitably degenerated into the sort of crass commercialism that probably would make the Bellas themselves turn up their noses.
Once the USO tour is set into motion, it falls to Wilson to provide much of the humor here, and she is a skilled enough comic to push the narrative over most of its hurdles. But even she can’t quite finesse or explain John Lithgow, who plays the criminal father of Fat Amy. Lithgow does an entertainingly terrible accent in “Pitch Perfect 3” that sounds like Dick Van Dyke’s disastrously tin-eared Cockney in “Mary Poppins,” and this is perplexing. Since Fat Amy is from Australia, and Lithgow’s character mentions going to Sydney, was Lithgow actually trying for Australian, and this god-awful watered-down ‘ello-guvnuh accent was the result?
But once the question of whether or not Beca is a Bella is resolved, what are we left with? A still-kind-of-snotty Kendrick, whose unfortunate defining characteristic is her standoffishness, and the rest of the Bellas, who, aside from (the very good) Brittany Snow’s hapless try-hard Chloe, are nothing but a canvas on which to throw any gay and/or fat and/or Asian jokes that come to the writers’ minds. (Granted, this most recent film is far less egregious than the second installment.) Even still, that not-at-all-cohesive crew is much easier to root for than Beca herself, and Pitch Perfect 3 struggles most when it tries to make us care about her music career, and it tries a lot.
Even more curious is the material given to Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy, who had become a full-on caricature in the last film and now is being asked to carry a long-lost-dad plot opposite John Lithgow. Neither seem to have any idea if their arc is supposed to be funny or not, nor do I. The film ends with a refutation of the usual “if you want to sign one of us, you sign all of us” band-movie cliché, which I appreciated. But it also ends with a sentimentality I didn’t buy — the Bellas don’t seem to particularly care about each other outside of a competitive setting, so why should we?
Khaled, meanwhile, is either a terrible actor or trying to act terribly. Either way, the movie tries to work his awkwardness into something like shtick, but it doesn’t really commit to reconceiving him as a bizarre self-parody. So instead, he’s just a guy who gets a lot of reaction shots despite not being good at reaction shots.