UK Release Date: 26th December 2017
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Michael Gracey
Writer: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey
Synopsis: Down on his luck idealist PT Barnum strikes it lucky when he takes a big risk on putting together a blockbuster stage show featuring unusual people, often described as “freaks” by others.
Hugh Jackman started 2017 as the star of one of the best films of the year, with his final outing as Wolverine in the throat-slashing, bleak masterpiece that was Logan. He ended 2017 wearing a rather different costume, swapping a bloodied shirt for the bright red jacket of circus ringmaster PT Barnum. This is Jackman returning to his song and dance roots in The Greatest Showman – a huge Hollywood musical that pops with colour and energy, powered by the Aussie actor’s enviable charisma.
This is a film that has been in the pipeline for many years, conceived in the midst of a drought in Hollywood’s production of original blockbuster musicals. It arrives, though, almost a year after La La Land became a ubiquitous awards season powerhouse and charmed audiences to the tune of almost $450m at the worldwide box office. Despite being beaten to the punch, The Greatest Showman conducts itself with a broad smile on its face and blitzes through another clutch of memorable songs from lyrical duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were last seen winning an Oscar for – you guessed it – La La Land.
The film begins by tracing a young PT Barnum as a tailor’s son who catches the eye of wealthy girl Charity. Years later, Barnum (Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) are married with two daughters. Barnum loses his job, but cons the bank into loaning him a huge sum, with which he starts a ‘museum of oddities’ that morphs into a circus. His acts include bearded lady Lettie (Keala Settle) and trapeze artist Anne (Zendaya). As his show catches on with a working class crowd, Barnum recruits playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to target a more highbrow audience, which also leads him to classy songstress Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).
Like any musical, The Greatest Showman lives or dies on the strength of its songs. Thankfully, the film delivers a selection of crackers, from the vibrantly idealistic ‘A Million Dreams’ to rousing earworm ‘This Is Me’ and the comedic duelling vocals of Jackman and Efron in ‘The Other Side’. The songs have a modern pop music edge that creates an intriguing juxtaposition with the 19th century setting of the story. They are also spread fairly evenly through the movie to ensure there’s never long to wait between tracks.
Jackman is obviously in his element with this film, flexing his vocal muscles while also being awarded the opportunity to play a complex role. Barnum is a difficult character to play, but Jackman affords as much depth to the role as he can, despite the film’s desire to smooth off as many of the character’s rough edges as possible. Indeed, first-time filmmaker Michael Gracey plays things as conventionally as possible, with some ropey CGI and obvious shot choices showcasing the director’s lack of experience.
It’s in the characters that Gracey strikes gold, with Michelle Williams doing typically dependable work as Barnum’s wife and Zac Efron revealing levels of charm undetected since his fresh-faced High School Musical days. The star who deserves to break out from The Greatest Showman, though, is Keala Settle. She is as touching and emotional as the bearded lady as she is impressive when she breaks out her truly remarkable vocal chords to belt out ‘This Is Me’, which has been the main number used to promote the film and is competing for Best Song at the Golden Globes.
These supporting parts provide The Greatest Showman with its considerable heart. Jackman’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-charisma performance is the glue that holds the movie together, but it’s the supporting players who provide it with its heft. For all of the flaws in its filmmaking, it excels at conjuring the same sense of wonderment felt by the circus crowds. You will leave the cinema wearing a big smile and humming the songs for hours to come. If that’s not the mark of a good musical, I don’t know what is.
Pop or Poop?
With an exceptionally hard-working Hugh Jackman at its heart, The Greatest Showman is a thrilling musical with a real sense of showbiz glitz. The songs have a very different feel to the classic musical showtunes you might expect and, despite director Michael Gracey’s rather unpolished style, there’s plenty of fun here to send 2017 off with a blast of glitter and flashing lights.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.