Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Every once in a while, a movie-musical comes along that completely shatters our expectations of what a movie about people breaking into song and dance can be. Whether it be the 70s summer hit “Grease” that became the poster child for what musical films could achieve if done right, or even as recent as 2016’s “La La Land,” which took a very grounded and sincere approach that (almost) won it a Best Picture Oscar.
These types of films can range from triumphant to tragic and have the power to give audiences a foot-tapping spectacle. They also provide a very human story with universal themes and fleshed out characters. “The Greatest Showman” is not that kind of movie, and that is exactly why it works so well.
This film tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the man who created what we know today as show business. Viewers witness a man who started out with nothing, and through a series of very lucky and convenient circumstances, creates the worldwide sensation known as the circus.
Barnum is played by Hugh Jackman (“Logan”), who, despite being almost 50 years old, manages to sing and dance his way through this film like he is 25. He, without a doubt, is the beating heart of the whole production. Without him leading this parade of catchy tunes, CGI elephants, and a half-asleep Michelle Williams (“All The Money In The World”), the movie’s lighthearted and flamboyant tone would simply be lost in translation.
Jackman not only brought life to the film, but also gave personality to a non-character. Putting aside how inaccurately the film portrays the real-life P.T. Barnum, who looks nothing like Jackman, there is nothing to him that we can latch onto. He is not particularly optimistic or happy, he has no real vices, and ultimately, he is portrayed as just some guy who happened to stumble onto this circus thing. The film never made it clear that it was Barnum who was the missing piece in creating the circus.
Aside from Jackman and some other fun performances, specifically from musical veteran Zac Efron (“Baywatch”), the true star of this movie is the music. All nine original songs are vastly different from each other in tone, yet all have that modern pop music vibe. This means all the songs have very vague messages so that they can be played on the radio. The songs are all catchy, very well written and performed beautifully, even if the movie’s plot screeches to a halt to showcase each music video. From the roaring “This Is Me,” to the emotional “Never Enough,” to the fulfilling “From Now On,” the songs are what gives the movie its identity and make it worth the price of admission alone.
The movie did not quite earn every emotional beat they were pushing for, but they definitely went for it. The bombastic choreography, glamorous spectacle and themes of accepting our differences and celebrating inclusion are all told through the lense of an old fashioned movie-musical extravaganza, and it absolutely worked.
Will “The Greatest Showman” go down as one of the greatest musicals? Nope. However, it is a family-friendly, Disney-ish music fest with inspiring themes and relentlessly catchy songs to back it all up.
It is a truly entertaining flick that is not one of the year’s best, but sure is a lot of fun.
Image from 20th Century Fox via YouTube.com