Directed by Michael Gracey
Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Effron, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya
The Greatest Showman is an old fashion traditional musical. It doesn’t feel the need to expand the boundaries of the genre or to break from the form, but rather proclaims loudly and unashamedly what it is, and revels in the sheer joy of that admission. As a result The Greatest Showman won’t challenge audiences, or give you rich character development, or a historically accurate insight into the life of PT Barnum – but it will entertain, and that certainly seems in keeping with the showmanship spirit of the film’s central character.
This loosely (with some major liberties taken with the details) covers the major events in the life of well known impresario, and master of the spin P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), from his humble origins to his formation of a group of performers that would eventually become his famed circus. It manages to hit most of the historical milestones in the figure’s life, as well as give us a personal love story between Barnum and his upper-crust wife Charity (the always exceptional Michelle Williams), and his dealings with the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) which came close to legitimising the maverick showman.
First time director Michael Gracey gives the sense of an accomplished hand in staging each of the musical numbers, knowing exactly when to cut away, and how to frame each sequence, and most importantly having the confidence to let the performers carry the piece without over editing to produce a frenetic pace. It is that confidence in the performers that really pays off, for despite the rich and lush setting and sets, it is the cast that does the heavy lifting here. They throw their heart and soul into it, and that sense of enjoyment is infectious.
Hugh Jackman is the embodiment of the born showman he’s playing, full of energy and verve as he makes dreams come alive. Due to his long association with the comic book mutant Wolverine, it is easy to forget what a musical talent Jackman actually is, but here he grants us a vivid reminder of what exactly that is. There is a verve to his portrayal, a vibrancy that winds its way into you heart, so that you as an audience buy into Barnum’s dream of entertainment. Williams puts in a workman like effort as his supportive wife, despite being given little to work with by the script. That script similarly under serves Zac Effron, giving his character (a fictitious playwright) little arc, and similarly he makes the best of what he has, particularly in the musical numbers. However it is Keala Settle that puts her Broadway background to the best use, playing the bearded lady Lettie Lutz and belting out in the show-stopping number This Is Me.
Beyond some the rather weakly generic message of “follow your dreams”, and “strength through diversity”, there really is not too much here as far as plot or script are concerned. The Greatest Showman is focused more on entertainment than enrichment or enlightenment. It’s both a weakness and strength. What we are left with is something that is vastly entertaining and enjoyable, but ultimately on retrospection, just a little hollow. Still a fun musical, and a bright and well executed spectacle.