Movie Review: “The Greatest Showman” (PG)
If you’re going into “The Greatest Showman” looking for a historically accurate, warts-and-all depiction of the life of P.T. Barnum, then you’ll probably walk away disappointed. But if you’re coming into this pure, joyful, exuberant musical hoping to walk away with a smile on your face, then you’ve come to the right place. “The Greatest Showman” is a movie for dreamers, and I certainly count myself as one of those, so a few story issues and glaring audio looping moments aside, I walked away from this movie extremely entertained.
This lively, high-energy celebration of “show business” follows dreamer P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) from his humble beginnings to the creation of an entertainment spectacle that would go on to become a worldwide sensation. But while Barnum’s rise to fame is certainly at the very heart of this movie, there is plenty more underneath the surface. “The Greatest Showman” is also about the price of ambition, the pitfalls that come with success, a celebration of individuality, and a look at the importance of family — a theme that comes across in a huge way during the final moments of the film. “The Greatest Showman” even finds the time to take a few spirited potshots at critics. So to anyone reading this review, you should be quick to realize that any problems I might have with this movie probably shouldn’t matter to you, because they certainly wouldn’t have mattered to Barnum.
As energetically directed by Michael Gracey, “The Greatest Showman” is overflowing with showstopping musical numbers, the two strongest being a playful barroom deal struck between Barnum and wealthy playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and a stunning duet between circus performer Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) and Carlyle set to a breathtaking trapeze routine. The flow and pace of this picture recalls Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge,” but it should be noted that “The Greatest Showman” is considerably less dizzying.
At a fairly brisk 105 minutes, there are times when “The Greatest Showman” feels oddly truncated. There’s lot going on, and there’s not always quite enough development to support the many characters that make up this massive ensemble. A subplot involving Barnum’s bond with singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) suffers as a result of the shorter running time. Lind ultimately feels more like a obstacle for Barnum to navigate around instead of emerging as a fully developed character. That said, this is by no fault of the talented Ferguson. The “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” co-star certainly does the most with what she’s been given to work with.
Another pivotal scene, in which Barnum essentially shuns the band of unique performers he’s assembled for his show out of shame while in the presence of the rich and powerful, doesn’t offer up a sufficient resolution. The performers handle said situation with grace and strength, but Barnum is never truly held accountable for this heinous action. If the film had been a little longer, perhaps things could have been fleshed out a bit more. That said, these are minor quibbles and do little to detract from the overall joy and energy that this movie manages to conjure up.
A great deal of the energy and joy in “The Greatest Showman” comes from the music. The songs were penned by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul of “La La Land” fame, and while this film is a period piece, the infectiously catchy tunes that make up the memorable soundtrack bring a modern sensibility to the lively proceedings. At the very least, the songs in this picture further illustrate why Pasek and Paul are held in such high regard in both the theater and film worlds.
“The Greatest Showman” has been quite the labor of love for the gifted Jackman who began the year by riding off into the sunset as Wolverine and ends it with an emotional and passionate turn as a showbusiness icon. That said, the ringleader of this film gets a major assist from an enthusiastic cast headed by the likes of a likable Efron, a sweet and charming Michelle Williams as Barnum’s supportive wife, and scene-stealer Zendaya (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) as an angelic trapeze artist who simply wants to love and be loved in return.
Jackman and crew have fashioned an idealistic and sentimental film to be sure, but these are hardly negative traits, particularly given this movie’s subject matter. In the end, “The Greatest Showman” has cast a pretty irresistible spell for folks of all ages, especially if you’re a dreamer or a fan of movie musicals.