Tag: Michelle Williams

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.

Manchester by the Sea

 

mbtsIt’s Oscar season and the nominated films are being released thick and fast.  One of the contenders, Manchester by the Sea, is the third feature film by director and writer Kenneth Lonergan (Margaret), who was originally best known for his work as a playwright.  Here, Lonergan has brought to the big screen a heartbreaking tale of social tragedy.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is a janitor working in Boston. He is extremely withdrawn and clearly carries unexplained baggage from his past that periodically bubbles to the surface with outbursts of anger.  When his brother dies he is reluctantly dragged back into his dark past, both emotionally and physically, to the town where he grew up, Manchester (yep, it’s by the sea).  He is forced to face his demons and become intimately connected to the people he had previously withdrawn from.

Structurally the film presents two timelines; the present day Lee who is quiet, withdrawn, and unsure of himself as he deals with the weighty issues surrounding the custody of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) and relationship with his ex-wife (Michelle Williams).  In contrast, this is intertwined with flashbacks of his confident and outgoing past self. As the film progresses, both personas gravitate towards one another on a collision course that generates a burning curiosity regarding the reason for his regression, but it also comes with a foreboding sense of dread.

Some of its most harrowing moments are contrasted against the comically absurd and mundane details of everyday life. The crucial and distressing scene that explains Lee’s torment is comically offset by ambulance officers struggling with a jammed stretcher. Such moments allow for humorous relief but also serve to flesh out the gravity of Lee’s personal struggles.

One of the film’s great strengths are the performances.  Michelle Williams makes wonderful use of her limited screen time, and Casey Affleck’s nuanced portrayal of isolation and withdrawal is a tour de force of onscreen acting.  His ability to show a maelstrom of rage and despair bubbling just beneath a thin veneer of control is riveting to watch — and all within a frame that eschews closeups. It’s no surprise he landed the Golden Globe and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get the Oscar nod too.

Despite a couple of minor false steps (Michelle William’s character had too little screen time, and I had some reservations over the musical score), Manchester by the Sea is a wonderfully haunting portrayal of grief and regret — worth seeing if none-other than for Affleck’s performance alone.

Rating: 4 suppressed feelings out of 5

You can see the published review here.