THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – Review
The showman frequently gets a bad rap. Whether it’s trying to get someone to laugh or smile, there are many directors and actors out there who simply love to entertain. They may not be aiming for high art, but they are looking to delight the masses. The best men and women in the business make it look easy. Yet, for all the razzle-dazzle and cheap thrills associated with entertainment for entertainment’s sake, there’s an art to it. It’s an incredible feat when done right; it’s a risk; it’s a high-wire act that could send the performer toppling down if they don’t balance the performance just right.
Hugh Jackman is no stranger to either the stage or the screen. While his best performance of the year might feature him as an aging and depressed alcoholic who is living his last days coming to terms with his impact on the only people left in his life (all the while using his retractable claws to protect those individuals), Jackman commands the role of the singing and dancing circus owner, P.T. Barnum. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN spotlights Jackman’s natural charisma as well as give credence to the art of pleasing a crowd. And there’s no doubt that THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is a real crowd-pleaser.
There’s a classic storytelling approach to Michael Gracey’s film. It’s a family film that takes a page or two from the Pixar playbook by injecting messages about outsiders finding their voice as well as showing the dangers of losing sight of what’s important in life when you’re solely focused on fame. Gracey does a fine job of balancing the message with the spectacle – after all, it is a musical, and he doesn’t forget to let the large-scale dance numbers and toe-tapping numbers shine. Many of the numbers feature stylized choreography like the bar duet “The Other Side.” Zac Efron plays (and drinks) opposite Jackman in this cleverly staged number. Later on, Efron flies high opposite the talented Zendaya in “Rewrite the Stars.” It’s a number where we see both of them express their feelings for one another while performing a series of aerial acrobatic moves (who knew how effective and emotive of an actress Zendaya is). Like so much of the film, it’s obviously a bit on the nose, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotions of it all thanks to the two performances.
Fans of traditional musicals might find the more contemporary tunes a bit jarring in relation to the time period. Most songs feature an interlude or breakdown that seems prime for audiences to set down their popcorn and clap along. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the catchiness of them, but they are obviously orchestrated as pop melodies as opposed to classical songs you’ll remember long after the credits.
Hugh Jackman may serve as the ringleader and take center stage throughout, but the film works because of the entire ensemble. It’s not a one-man show, and the screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon lets some of the circus performers really stand out. This is especially true of the “bearded lady” Lettie Lutz played by Keala Settle, who makes her amazing voice and strong personality be heard. While children will connect with THE GREATEST SHOWMAN because of its colorful imagery and the “outsiders rising up” theme, parents will appreciate the old-fashioned storytelling on display, reminding us that we all enjoy a wholesome and entertaining show.
Overall score: 3.5 out of 5
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN opens everywhere on December 20th