The Greatest Showman

by Toby Woollaston

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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