Director: Michael Gracey
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Keala Settle
Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. (Source: IMDb)
We’re very much on the home stretch now for 2017 movies, and the final curtain call is this all-singing, all-dancing, original musical which has been almost 8 years in the making for it’s star, Hugh Jackman. Long before he was sharpening his claws as Wolverine, Jackman aspired for a career in musical theatre, and the passion he has for The Greatest Showman – which is undoubtedly his baby – is evident throughout, even if it does fall a little short of the standing ovation it so obviously aims for.
For the most part, Jackman gives a commanding and charismatic performance, and whilst his actions are sometimes a little questionable, the more morally reprehensible elements of the real P.T. Barnum are masked with razzmatazz; this doesn’t necessarily come to the film’s detriment, however it does leave it feeling a little flimsy which we’ll get to.
Getting this project green-lit was half the battle, especially as the studios were less than keen to back an original musical. The Greatest Showman does however succeed in this sense with the songs being pretty great on the whole, and rather smartly choosing to take its cues from modern musicals. Obvious comparisons can be made with Moulin Rouge, especially in terms of the heightened reality it exhibits. With Broadway musical Hamilton taking the world by storm, The Greatest Showman also similarly transposes modern songs into a more historic setting; the difference being The Greatest Showman favours more big ballad and anthemic numbers to Hamilton‘s fusion of diverse musical styles.
What The Greatest Showman lacks however is that spark of originality, despite it being just that; an original musical. The story is disappointingly formulaic, favouring the predictable and emotionally manipulative approach, which unfortunately leaves the film feeling vapid and empty. The song and dance numbers are absolutely fine, and easily the best thing about the film, particularly the wonderfully catchy “This is Me” sung by Keala Settle; coincidentally she is the breakout star of this movie and her powerful voice and honest performance are consistently the highlight. However, there is an inescapable sense of falsity about the whole thing, perhaps in-keeping with the humbug and hijinks of Barnum, but it lacks punch.
It is particularly difficult to care about the characters; Barnum is for the most part utterly detestable and his questionable exploitation of the “stars” of his show is unpalatable. It does attempt a redemptive arc for Barnum but it feels too little too late, and the acts themselves are so great in number that few have the chance to have their backgrounds explored in enough detail. The Greatest Showman is all show and no substance, shallow end-of-year froth that provides adequate surface-level entertainment but little else. Unfortunately this one bows out with a bit of a whimper rather than rapture.
I saw this movie and you should too. Yes, my review is a little on the negative side, and this film didn’t too much for me, but the songs are great and it is harmless feel-good fodder that finds perfect placing in the post-Christmas lull. I don’t doubt it’ll find its fans, so perhaps it is worth checking out for yourself to see where you stand!