The Greatest Showman

GSOE_D32_013117_9584.cr2The very likeable Australian, Hugh Jackman, and that other very likeable Australian, Michelle Williams, join an ensemble cast including Zac Efron (who reprises his High School Musical years and proves he’s still got the moves) to bring us the latest big screen musical.

The Greatest Showman is based very loosely on the real P.T. Barnum (Jackman) who grows up a pauper and marries his childhood sweetheart Charity (Williams). The film tells his rags to riches story as an entrepreneur and entertainer who gathers a bunch of “freaks” and forms a lucrative entertainment show. Soon, Barnum with the help of Carlyle (Efron) is mixing in the same circles as the famous Opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). Lind becomes a distraction he cannot afford and that is when cracks appear in his entertainment empire.

It’s important to know that this retelling of Barnum’s life is certainly not a good history lesson.  This tale of empowerment is completely at odds the real Barnum who was, if the history books are to be believed, more exploitative and self-promoting than the warm and affable Hugh Jackman version would suggest. The film quickly becomes a fantasy that distorts the truth so much it makes you wonder why they bothered to “base” it on a historical character in the first place. In short, The Greatest Showman is peddling the age-old Hollywood lie. But hey, that’s ok when the musical numbers are this heartfelt, right? Certainly, The Greatest Showman doesn’t seem to make any apologies.

There is no denying the film’s enthusiasm and emotive sway.  It’s musical numbers drum up the kind of feel-good vibes that would put the likes of Gordon Ramsay in a good mood.  Musicians Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, seem to be at the peak of their powers right now; they wrote songs for last year’s La La Land and here they’ve penned the kind of songs that become household anthems, playing in your head for weeks. Before you know it you’ll be dusting your daughter’s copy of Frozen just to change the channel.

Outside of the music numbers (eleven in all), the film methodically moves from plot juncture to plot juncture in search of the next foot tapping number.  Narratively, The Greatest Showman doesn’t break any new ground, nor does it seem to want to.  Instead, it appears content to plod an increasingly well-trodden path and trade in narrative complexities for the evocative cheer of its musical numbers. No doubt its well choreographed and sentimentally catchy tunes will have you leaving the theatre basking in its warm glow but unfortunately its lack of narrative depth makes the glow fade fast… but you’ll be humming those songs for months.

   

You can see my published reviews here.

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My top 11 for 2017

Couldn’t narrow it to 10, so you’ve got an extra for free:

11. Menashe

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10. In Between

inbetween

 

9. I Am Not Your Negro

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8. Dunkirk

dunkirk

 

7. Blade Runner 2049

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6. Lost City of Z 

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5. Lady Macbeth

Macbeth

 

4. Manchester by the Sea

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3. mother!

mum

 

2. Moonlight (yes, I’m including it dammit – it was a late release in NZ)

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1. A Ghost Story

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Breathe

breatheThere is a palpable sense of the familiar with Breathe, which tells the true story of polio victim Robin Cavendish.  Comparisons will be made with other films, most obvious being Julian Schnabel’s very depressing (but utterly brilliant) The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but Breathe differs from its ilk, most notably with its cheerful attitude towards life—no small feat for a film that deals in the currency of disease, paralysis, and death. 

Andrew Garfield plays Englishman Robin Cavendish, an amiable chap of the “stiff upper lip” variety, with whom life’s promise has been cruelly snuffed out through contracting polio while working in Africa in the late fifties.  Paralysed from the neck down, Robin is put on a respirator and given months to live. But for the encouragement and support of his long-suffering wife, Diana (played by Claire Foy), and the ingenuity of his friend Teddy (Hugh Bonneville), Robin’s life would’ve come to a literal standstill. Instead, his life becomes one of reinvention and a symbol of endeavour and triumph as he historically pioneers a mobile treatment allowing paralysis patients to live their lives outside the hospital walls.

In his directorial debut, Andy Serkis has shown enough chops to suggest that he’s one to keep an eye on in the future. His attention to the film’s more technical minutia elevates it beyond a mere actorly drama.  That said, he also appears to have got the most out of his quality cast, specifically Garfield who has climbed wholeheartedly into the role of Robin and delivers a convincing performance despite ostensibly only having his face to act with.

Not entirely without fault, the film’s playful moments risk being overly twee. And yes, the provocative “Oscar bait” timing of its release coinciding with a “real-life drama of triumph over adversity” might alert the cynically aware. But for those less pessimistically challenged, Breathe’s unbridled optimism and celebration of life is presented with full conviction and dares you to enter the cinema without a box of tissues.

Read the full review for the NZ Herald here.