It’s Got its Flaws, but ‘The Greatest Showman’ Has Some True Spectacle, Too

The_Greatest_Showman_posterNow that he is done playing the Wolverine I really hope Hugh Jackman does more feel-good comedies; dude is charming as hell.

“The Greatest Showman” (kind of) tells the story of how P. T. Barnum started the Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1870s. Hugh Jackman plays Barnum as Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya also star and Michael Gracey makes his directorial debut.

Early on this project piqued my interest. I’m always down for a biographical period piece, love Hugh Jackman and the fact that the duo who wrote the songs for “La La Land” were behind this excited me. And it may not be the best constructed film ever made, and is certainly not an Oscar contender or anywhere near true to Barnum’s story, but “The Greatest Showman” occasionally puts on a pretty great show.

Hugh Jackman earned his first career Academy Award nomination for his work in the musical “Les Misérables,” so it is clear that the man has pipes. He doesn’t need to sing every single line of dialogue this time around but this is a musical so he again gets to show just how talented he really is. He plays a PG-rated Barnum, a man with a heart of gold who wants what’s best for his family and (at least at first) sees his gang of misfits as equal. The film attempts to do a little bit of arc with his character but for the most part Jackman’s natural charm bleeds through and the script never fully commits to letting the real-life scam-artist and greedy side of Barnum show.

And those are two things important to know going into this: it is a musical where people burst into song when a simple speaking response will do, and the film in no way attempts to tell the real story of Barnum and his circus. His daughters are portrayed much younger than they actually were, he exploited his attractions and he scammed his way to the top “to put money in his own coffers.” The only time the film portrays him in this light is when he goes to the bank for an initial loan and that is was when Barnum was the most interesting character to me.

The rest of the cast is solid, with Zac Efron (a man I continue to assert gets a bad rap) offers a few chuckles and Zendaya being as gorgeous as ever, even if it is hard to buy her as some of misfit freak, the likes of a bearded woman or 500 pound man.

The musical numbers are toe-tapping and full of high-energy, with two great songs in particular. At times (especially during the opening number) the sound mixing is a bit off and it is hard to make out the lyrics given all that is going on but when the words aren’t doing you justice, all the colorful spectacle on the screen will distract you.

And that’s what “The Greatest Showman” is: a colorful distraction. It is crowd-pleasing enjoyment, just like Barnum intended his circus to be when he founded it 150 years ago. Does it have a real message, purpose or coherency? Not really, but you’re smiling as you watch and that is enough for the price of admission.

Critics Rating: 6/10

20th Century Fox

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