The Greatest Showman
Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya
Despite being nominated for three Golden Globe awards (Picture comedy, actor comedy, song), The Greatest Showman isn’t the spectacle it thinks it is. Following in the wake of La La Land, this musical history of PT Barnum lacks large set pieces and emotional punch found within the genre. While Jackman is electric on screen, The Greatest Showman functions like a musical on a severe diet. With no previous directing credits to his name, Michael Gracey’s first time out of the gate calling the shots is a gamble that doesn’t quite pay off. He leads the film into every familiar narrative trope imaginable and it never breaks new cinematic ground. Pop culture names Zendaya and Zac Efron along with catchy tunes will help this modern musical pass for holiday family entertainment, just not much else.
Growing up on the streets of New York, Phineas Taylor Barnum (Jackman) always dreamed of show business and money. His affection for employer’s daughter Charity (Williams) fueled his desire to makes something of himself. They risked everything to open a museum of wonders which never made a profit. “You need something alive,” his two little daughters suggested. Barnum would assemble a lineup of misfits and curiosity’s, shunned by society, now finding a home and work they can be proud of. As Barnum’s success grows, so does his ambition, leading to the neglect of his family as he chases the next big thing all over the world. “You don’t need everyone to love you,” Charity says.
While Jackman is electric on screen, The Greatest Showman functions like a musical on a severe diet.
There are a handful of moments where The Greatest Showman begins to feel like it might rise above “the inevitable” only to step back down into familiar territory. What begins as a story about the man who created one of the most famous circus acts in the world, embarrassingly becomes more of a relationship drama. Of course, the narrative moves rather slowly because the story can’t progress without a musical number every few minutes. It’s in the ring that most of the musical numbers occur, the first is quite good with the entire cast, but the next couple feel repetitive since the set doesn’t change. Positive themes of redemption, love, honesty, are all well-intentioned, but result in more eye-rolls than tears.
I’m continually impressed with Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) range, as this is both her and action star Rebecca Fergeson’s first musical. The film rides squarely on Jackman’s shoulders, and his performance is what you expect, no better or worse. It’s Efron who feels like the odd second fiddle, with little to do as the junior ring master. It’s the second time this year Efron (Baywatch) has played the supporting role to a bigger star. The costumes have a bit more sparkle to them than the performances, the entire production seems overly tested to reach the widest mainstream audience, resulting in a generic film that doesn’t stand out in a year of “firsts” and “breakthroughs”.
Not the ‘Greatest’ show at the box office this awards season.