Is there anything Hugh Jackman can’t do? The Mr Nice Guy, who completed the Wolverine franchise earlier this year, can act, sing and emcee with aplomb. He’s considered, intelligent and reflective. What a CV! So, I suppose it’s only fitting these qualities are neatly packaged up in The Greatest Showman. This fanciful musical tackles another showman, Phineas Taylor Barnum, who lived from 1810 to 1891.
Inspired by America’s original pop-culture impresario, this is an inspirational rags-to-riches tale about a brash dreamer who rose from nothing. Michael Gracey makes his feature film directorial debut. The screenplay is by Jenny Bicks (What a Girl Wants) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls).
Gracey clearly sees Barnum as a pioneer for today’s visionaries and entrepreneurs. A big idea in the film is that real wealth resides in those around you. Barnum pulled together people the world might otherwise have ignored. He created the ultimate “freak” show, but didn’t treat his so-called “oddities” as anything out of the ordinary. It’s a tale of a scrappy American trailblazer who pulled himself out of poverty to become one of the first self-made millionaires and a godfather of mass entertainment.
While Zac Efron and Michelle Williams are other big names in the cast, it’s a showpiece for Jackman. He remains front and centre throughout.
But The Greatest Showman is ultimately a lightweight. The feel-good story features ear-pleasing tunes and some darker moments (though there is no dwelling on those). I loved the music and Ashley Wallen’s choreography of the dance numbers.
There’s larger-than-life quality to the film, similar to Moulin Rouge! (2001). What strikes you in many scenes is the energy level, which is turned up to full throttle. Sure, it’s unusual at first when the characters suddenly break out into song (especially when, on a few occasions, you get the impression they’re lip syncing). Still, I very quickly warmed to it, overwhelmed – dare I say – by the showmanship of it all. The film has a beautiful look to it, with strong production values throughout.
The Greatest Showman is highly polished, even if the filmmakers have taken licence with the truth about PT Barnum. I greatly enjoyed large tracts of it.
Director: Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya Coleman
Release Date: 26 December 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television