The Glossy Tale of The World’s Greatest Conman That is “The Greatest Showman”
By Scott Kurland
Film: The Greatest Showman
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Sattle, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
Director: Michael Gracey
Why does Hollywood romanticize P.T. Barnum? We all know how crooked he was right? He was a frequent visitor to houses of ill repute (including those here in Massachusetts), he was voted Mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut and was well practiced in the art of swindling people out of their money. How exactly does a man with a reputation like that become so beloved? I'll tell you. Its because he created the circus….obviously. This week’s film is “The Greatest Showman;” Hugh Jackman’s passion project which he’s been trying to make for the better part of a decade. Let’s find out if it was worth the wait shall we?
“The Greatest Showman” tells the story of Phineas Taylor "P.T." Barnum (Hugh Jackman), a poor tailor’s son who rises out of his father’s shadow to become a poor bookkeeper. When P.T. loses another job, he feels like he's a failed to give his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and his two daughters (Cameron Seeley and Austyn Johnson) the life he promised them. Rather than slave away behind another desk, P.T. decides to go into business for himself and creates an oddities museum, one which transforms into a theatrical experience. Barnum’s show has everything: a bearded lady (Keala Settle), Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), and a sibling trapeze act (Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). As his career builds, Barnum seeks new angles to get keep the crowds coming which arrives in the form of a young producer/playwright (Zac Efron). Will Barnum achieve his goal and become the greatest “Showman,” or will the small minded people of New York throw water on the fire that fuels his larger-than-life dreams?
This film is fine. It’s not going to hurt anyone. It wasn't until I arrived at the screening and saw the PG rating on the poster that I realized this was meant to be a children's film. It makes sense given that the themes of fulfilling your dreams and acceptance take center stage. However, the main problem I had with this film is the story. Jackman's P.T. Barnum is flawed in the way a Disney Prince is flawed. Even when he surrenders to selfish impulses, he is almost immediately forgiven. Given that this is director Michael Gracey’s first film, it's likely that more attention was paid to the backdrop rather than the story. This isn't meant to be a jab at Gracey. His film looks beautiful. As for the songs, they are catchy enough to fill in the plot holes in Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon’s script. I just wish this movie was a simple rock-opera. The songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are really good. So good in fact that I believe they could have pulled a “Les Miserables” and told this story with minimal dialog.
Besides the story, the only other issue I had with the movie is the casting of Rebecca Ferguson. Even though Ferguson herself can sing, she isn’t truly singing here. Her voice is replaced by Loren Allred; a contestant from “The Voice.” I know Fox was trying to recreate those old 20
Century Fox musicals like “West Side Story” and “My Fair Lady” where famous singers replaced the voices of famous actors, but there’s so many other actors you could have cast. Why not pick a Broadway actress like Idina Menzel or Laura Bell Bundy? If you’re making a musical, cast singers, not just names.
The three best things in this movie are Jackman, Efron, and Keala Settle as the bearded lady. This film will propel Settle into stardom. There is a reason
"This Is Me’"appears in every trailer of this film and its because Settle's voice
both breaks your heart and lifts it simultaneously. As for Jackman, everything he touches shines just a little brighter. The man even made “Real Steele” decent. If you’re going to make a likable Barnum, Jackman is your man (especially if children are your target audience). Nothing is cooler than Wolverine
in a bright red coat while waving a top hat. Jackman, like Barnum, is a great showman and made every moment entertaining. The final element I enjoyed was Efron's performance alongside Jackman. The two play off each other very well. I am actually a huge fan of Zac Efron because he knows how to liven up a scene. Efron hasn’t starred in any award winning films because he's found his niche in comedies and musicals. The sheer enjoyment of watching Efron and Jackman share the screen is why I am able to (slightly) recommend this film.
I think children should see this film. It has a good message and they are the intended audience. If you don’t have kids or family to go with, I wouldn’t recommend this for solo movie goers. Instead, I would recommend opting for a matinee screening. I did enjoy the songs and visuals, as well as the performances from Settle, Jackman, and Efron. However, I could not fully embrace the sugar-coated history lesson it offers. This was a decent first film for Michael Gracey. He clearly has a great eye and
I think he’ll continue to grow as a director
. I just feel like there was an envelope it could have been pushing and it didn't. Still...I, a grown man, am not the intended demographic, and it is for that reason that I am giving a slightly higher grade than I initially intended. It truly was an entertaining effort.