Director: Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Zac Efron, Keala Settle, Rebecca Ferguson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
Although we recognise him as the mega-buff Wolverine, Hugh Jackman started out in musical theatre and thankfully, he never lost his passion for singing. Of course, Jackman has had the opportunity to let his musical flag fly every now and again in Hollywood, but The Greatest Showman might be his most daring project yet.
The Greatest Showman tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the man who invented the circus and became a pioneer of showbusiness. In real life, Barnum proved himself to be a bit of a liar, con-man and general sleazebag, although this Hollywood adaptation of his life presents the man as an ambitious dreamer, who sets out to give freaks and outsiders somewhere to belong.
Getting straight into what works, the musical numbers are undeniably catchy and beautifully performed by the cast. You’ll laugh, cry, and jump with joy with every new song and while there are definite stand-outs in terms of the melody and lyrics, each number adds something unique to the characters, which is what all good musicals should strive to achieve. Unlike La La Land, this film isn’t afraid to go big with its musical numbers and that only works for the better when dealing with P.T. Barnum and his band of colourful outcasts.
Jackman dominates the screen as Barnum, especially during the magnificent and grand musical sequences. This is the first film in Jackman’s musical career that really gives him the opportunity to lay everything he’s got on the table, and there doesn’t seem to be a single moment in The Greatest Showman that Jackman didn’t throw one-hundred percent into. I won’t go as far as to say this is Jackman’s best role (not even close), but it might be the one he was born to play. As for the supporting cast, Zac Efron and Zendaya give Jackman the back-up he barely needs, and the chemistry between them mostly works, presenting the audience with something to grasp onto and care about. Michelle Williams plays Barnum’s wife and while the performance is there, the character is never important enough to the primary storyline to fully capture any attention.
The Greatest Showman falters in director Michael Gracey’s treatment of the circus. It seems as though the film took the easy path, while a far more compelling and entertaining story could have been told in the other direction. Characters like the bearded lady are only given small chances to show how they are treated, and these are arguably the most touching and entertaining moments in the film. While Barnum is rightfully the lead, it was disappointing to see that the story didn’t revolve more around acceptance for these social outcasts.
It’s also worth noting that while the musical aspect of the story works perfectly, the narrative seems to fall behind. If possible, The Greatest Showman feels like a handful of great songs that a group of filmmakers tried to tell a story between an in some cases it worked, but more often than not the storyline and narrative failed to connect to the far superior musical numbers.
The Greatest Showman certainly won’t win any awards for storytelling, but the film is massive, colourful and undeniably entertaining. The top-notch musical numbers, beautiful choreography and good performances will keep you entertained, even if the unoriginal storyline stops you from falling in love. Jackman was born to play this version of P.T. Barnum, and while The Greatest Showman is the perfect example of wasted potential, it still makes for an extremely fun trip to the cinema.