Director: Michael Gracey
Runtime: 105 minutes
I was very much looking forward to seeing The Greatest Showman. Not only is it fronted by the infinitely talented Hugh Jackman, but I was attending the screening with my equally excited best friend.
It is a little bit disappointing to say, but we both left the cinema feeling mostly unchanged, which I believe is one of the greatest sins a film can commit.
The Greatest Showman is a period musical drama supposedly chronicling the life of P.T. Barnum, the creator of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The narrative commences with a prepubescent Barnum, a poor tailor’s son, and his first encounter with Charity Hallett, the young heir to a family fortune.
Despite their different socioeconomic backgrounds, P.T. (Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) reconnect and marry as adults, with P.T. defrauding a bank so that he can establish the Barnum American Museum. Longing to treat Charity to a life of luxury, P.T. fills the museum with wax figures. However, due to declining ticket sales, and at the urging of his two young daughters, P.T. decides to employ real life ‘freaks’, individuals with anomalous physical characteristics or abilities.
He finds success in showcasing the incredible talents of Lettie Lutz, the singing bearded lady (Keala Settle); Charles Stratton, the horse riding dwarf (Sam Humphrey); and Anne and W.D. Wheeler, acrobatic siblings (Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, respectively). Seeking credibility amongst the upper class, P.T. forms a partnership with the popular playwright Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and also begins working as the American manager for Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an acclaimed European opera singer.
At the climax of his insatiable greed, P.T. experiences emotional and financial ruin. He apologises for the neglectful treatment of his family and friends, and commits to a humble life celebrating the outcast.
The Greatest Showman has a number of fantastic elements, including the original songs. Written by Paul and Pasek, a songwriting duo responsible for the Academy Award-winning ‘City of Stars’ from La La Land (2016), the soundtrack is dynamic and meaningful. Likewise, the choreographed dance sequences are meticulous, with each synchronised clap and stomp reverberating within.
Hugh Jackman demonstrates that he is not merely an actor who can sing and dance. He is an actor, a singer, and a dancer, commanding audience attention like a true ring master.
For his directorial debut, Michael Gracey navigates the significant production design admirably. However, the film mostly felt like a very long, very colourful music video. Every spare moment was lent to a new song rather than the development of character arcs. Though I will concede that this is what musicals are; they are intended to entertain and delight, and The Greatest Showman did offer some timely commentary on the treatment of societal minorities. I suppose I was anticipating a big summer comedy with a few songs and dances thrown in for good measure.
I would recommend The Greatest Showman to fairly hardcore musical buffs. And Hugh Jackman buffs, because this film was more of an ode to his fantastic achievements rather than those of the real P.T. Barnum.