Friday, 5 January 2018

The Greatest Showman

Back-to-back Michelle Williams, this time in a very different role, with some singing and dancing thrown in. Williams shows herself to be quite capable of doing both very well, and her performance may be the best in The Greatest Showman, where she plays Charity Barnum, the wife of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman).

Of course, Jackman is the big star here and he also performs very well (that he sings and dances is no surprise; we’ve seen him do these before). Jackman, a natural charmer, is a perfect fit for the role of Barnum. The Greatest Showman chronicles Barnum’s rise as a showman in the mid-19th century, moving from the purchase of a museum of oddities to creating a show featuring living oddities like dwarfs, giants and bearded women, to launching a tour by Swedish singer Jenny Lind, who was a huge hit. While The Greatest Showman focuses on Barnum’s successes and how he uses dangerous investments to make his dreams come true, it also shows the toll that his self-centred ambition made on his family.

Lind is played well by Rebecca Ferguson, but Loren Allred sings for her, something that never impresses me. The other primary characters in the film are Barnum’s partner, Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the woman Carlyle falls in love with (allowing for the opportunity to show how difficult a mixed-race relationship was in the mid-19th century).

The Greatest Showman, which is directed by Michael Gracey, certainly has its share of flaws. Even for a musical, the story is superficial, even hollow at times, giving us far too little story to make the film truly engaging. Outside of Williams and Jackman (and the small role for Ferguson), none of the acting or singing is worth noting. The songs themselves vary from excellent to way-too-poppy for my liking (especially near the end of the film; earlier songs were much better). All-in-all, The Greatest Showman is a far cry from the somewhat similar musical, Moulin Rouge

Nevertheless, The Greatest Showman is beautiful and fun to watch (i.e. it’s entertaining), offering gorgeous cinematography, some excellent songs, a good score, some good performances and a heart that’s in the right place, with, for example, a focus on humanizing the circus performers (though with minimal character development and no historical credibility, given that the real Barnum was more interested in exploiting the marginalized than in helping them). The bottom line is that The Greatest Showman is a musical and musicals don’t need to follow the same rules as other film genres in order to provide a solid entertainment. And I’m a sucker for musicals. That’s why I’m giving The Greatest Showman ***+ in spite of all of its flaws. My mug is up.

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