The Greatest Showman isn’t even trying to be believable, and that’s the point.
A hodgepodge of real life, fictions and glorifying showmanship that would make P.T. Barnum proud, this kid’s musical-biopic (yes, it’s for the little ones) starring a singing, dancing Hugh Jackman as the man himself, more than one breakout Disney star and several numbers children won’t be regurgitating quite as much as Frozen succeeds largely against the metrics of the genre it, some would say regrettably, has chosen.
Barnum is a contentious figure and whether or not he exploited or empowered his circus of “oddities” and “curiosities” may well one day be the subject of another, more dramatic feature sans the degree of nuance that can possibly be conveyed by this musical’s none too subtle lyrical peaks, troughs, flourishes and the type of emphatically equivocal moralistic floundering that can only exist immediately between or consequent to show-stopping numbers.
The appeal of which may too be tempered by perusing even sparingly Barnum’s true exploits, having said this, if you’ve come to a Hugh Jackman musical where the key numbers are titled ‘Come Alive,’ ‘From Now On’ and ‘This Is Me’ for a heavily-laden political treatise, you should wait a few days and catch The Post instead.
The latter number among the film’s highlights and heralded by the show’s “Bearded Lady” (stand-out performer Keala Settle), the most memorable and far and above best scene in the film belongs to will-they won’t-they lovers depicted by Zendaya and Zac Efron as the pair promise to ‘Rewrite The Stars’ while performing some of the film’s more impressive arena acrobatics. This scene almost makes up for Efron’s otherwise largely blasé role, relegated to staring longingly at Zendaya’s trapeze artist for much of the action.
Rebecca Ferguson is reliably superb as a Swedish opera superstar while Michelle Williams turns out a performance as Barnum’s long-patient wife that, together with Ferguson’s turn, belongs in a much better film. Jackman, evidently having a great deal of fun, knocks out some of the musical’s average, all too frenetic and not infrequently forgettable numbers, though he does share a well-choreographed introductory sequence in a bar with his High School Musical co-star.
A not unenjoyable musical with a few thrilling acts, like many a decent circus The Greatest Showman doesn’t invite you too far beyond the curtain, but that’s because you came for the spectacle, and spectacle it delivers.
The Greatest Showman is in cinemas now