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The Greatest Showman lives and dies on the performance of the five-tool utilizing, ridiculously talented, undeniably charismatic Hugh Jackman. His P. T. Barnum, the purveyor of the so-called “Greatest Show on Earth, is at the center of the movie and, if the film itself is not the greatest movie on Earth, its heart is surely in a very positive place. There is no spoiler in revealing that The Greatest Showman hits every note in the pre-ordained order the audience has come to anticipate. I have no problem with a film being precisely what it is advertised to be and giving the audience the experience it came to the theater to have. The Greatest Showman does that and, perhaps, a little bit more.
Jackman is delightful, singing and dancing his way through what has for years been a dream project. He commands each scene he is in (and he is in most of them) and is magnetic. His Barnum is earnest and ambitious in the first act, selfish and myopic in the short, second act and ultimately redeemed in the third. The movie works as well as it does because Jackman is so engaging and so good. Though the movie may not break much new ground, Jackman performs above the material as does the rest of the very talented cast.
Michelle Williams is having a nice December with this movie and All the Money in the World hitting theaters within days of each other. As it turns out, she has a terrific voice and she and Jackman are very good together. Williams’ Charity, the incredibly supportive wife and full partner to Jackman’s Barnum, never slips into stereotype in the actress’ hands. One wishes, in fact, she had more to do.
The Greatest Showman has a very classic structure which necessitates a lead couple (Jackman and Williams) and a secondary one. The movie gives us Zac Efron and Zendaya as the second pair of lovers. Zendaya’s star is on the rise and she is stunningly good as Anne Wheeler, a society outsider paired with Efron’s insider. If Efron is not quite as good as she, it can at least be noted he has matured from his High School Musical days into a more than respectable second lead. He can sing (not as well has Zendaya or Jackman), he can dance (see previous parenthetical) and he can act. The two of them together put a sharp focus on one of the things I liked most about the movie: its theme.
The movie celebrates those who are different, those who are outsiders, those who are ostracized by a society that does not understand them. The Barnum show created in the film is a big tent (pun intended) which admits all kinds of people, no matter class, station, appearance or preference. It is a place where people can be themselves and are, in fact, celebrated for being themselves. It is the kind of place of which this world needs more.
Just listen to the lyrics of This Is Me to get a good sense of the message of the movie.
The soundtrack is wonderful. The filmmakers made the decision to use modern musical styles and the choice pays off extremely well. There are Oscar nominees here. Watch for the aforementioned This Is Me, Never Enough and/or Come Alive to get nods. It helps to have part of the team behind La La Land writing your lyrics…
The Greatest Showman does not subvert expectation. It does not rewrite the rules of movie musicals. It does not blow the audience away. What it does is briskly entertain. It is a fable painting a picture of an inclusive world – singing about places where all are welcome – and there is something good about that. There is something good about a movie that wears its dreams on its sleeve and pins itself to the charisma of its leads. There is something very good about The Greatest Showman. If one cannot smile during this movie, one might need to wonder why…
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN receives FOUR out of a possible FIVE RING CIRCUS.