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The Greatest Showman Movie Review

The Greatest Showman (2017) movie poster The Greatest Showman

Theatrical Release: December 20, 2017 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Michael Gracey / Writers: Jenny Bicks (story & screenplay); Bill Condon (screenplay)

Cast: Hugh Jackman (P.T. Barnum), Michelle Williams (Charity Barnum), Zac Efron (Phillip Carlyle), Zendaya (Anne Wheeler), Rebecca Ferguson (Jenny Lind), Austyn Johnson (Caroline Barnum), Cameron Seely (Helen Barnum), Keala Settle (Lettie Lutz), Sam Humphrey (Tom Thumb), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (W.D. Wheeler), Eric Anderson (Mr. O'Malley), Ellis Rubin (Young P.T. Barnum), Skylar Dunn (Young Charity O'Malley)

Songs: "The Greatest Show", "A Million Dreams", "A Million Dreams (Reprise)", "Come Alive", "The Other Side", "Never Enough", "This Is Me", "Rewrite the Stars", "Tightrope", "Never Enough (Reprise)", "From Now On"

The musical biopic The Greatest Showman casts Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, the man who popularized the circus. At the film's opening, P.T. (Ellis Rubin) is just a poor boy from a poor family in New York.
He makes affluent girl Charity (Skylar Dunn) laugh, but his goofy ways earn him a slap in the face from her disapproving father (Eric Anderson).

But P.T. grows up quickly (Jackman laughably seems to inherit the role in his teens), successfully woos Charity (now Michelle Williams) and tries to make a name for himself by opening a museum of curiosities. To drum up business, he decides to put live human oddities on display. These include a bearded woman (Keala Settle), a very small man (Sam Humphrey), a very tall man, a very fat man, and a brother-sister team of trapeze artists.

It isn't until Barnum meets successful theatrical producer Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) that his circus, a word he takes from a cultural critic's disapproving review, takes off, even as some folks resent having "freaks" present in their neighborhood and paraded for a price.

Hugh Jackman portrays circus visionary P.T. Barnum in the musical biopic "The Greatest Showman."

Much like how zoos provoke a mix of reactions from animal lovers, the circus raises concerns for those who have compassion for their fellow human beings. The Greatest Showman is well aware of that and tackles the issue head on, making Barnum not just a smooth-talking profiteer but a champion for those who are different. The movie celebrates society's outcasts again and again, even after Barnum changes his game plan to pin the enterprise's financial hopes on Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), a Swedish opera singer who dazzles even the most cynical of Barnum's detractors.

The film toys with a love triangle as Lind develops feelings for Barnum that are unrequited. There is also a romance which blooms between the well-off Carlyle and one of the performers (Zendaya), of which, needless to say, his snooty parents do not approve.

Featuring all-original songs by the duo that wrote the lyrics to last year's triumphant crowdpleaser La La Land (but probably more directly evoking their work on NBC's "Smash"), The Greatest Showman has its heart in the right place and themes you can't resist getting on board with. But the results are uneven and often underwhelming. The screenplay by Bill Condon (writer of Chicago, director of Beauty and the Beast, and writer-director of Dreamgirls) and Jenny Bicks ("Sex and the City", "The Big C", Rio 2) is far from graceful and the ample charisma of actors like Jackman and Williams can only take you so far.

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) sees business take off after entering into a partnership with stage producer Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron).

Making an inexplicable directing debut on a project of some weight, Australian former visual effects lackey Michael Gracey hides his inexperience and seems at ease with big show-stopping numbers, expansive camera work, and ambitious staging. On a technical level, the film delivers and though I probably wouldn't notice or complain otherwise, the singing and dancing seems more than adequate.
The stage-seasoned Jackman, High School Musical-weaned Efron, and a bunch of nobodies that probably have musical backgrounds acquit themselves in bouncy though forgettable songs. It is really on narrative and emotional levels where the film stumbles and even then, the stumbles are minor enough not to scream bloody murder over this and Jackman picking up nominations in the Golden Globes' Musical or Comedy categories.

On ambitious, substantially-budgeted musicals like this, the result is typically either clear success or clear failure both critically and commercially. But The Greatest Showman feels like a pretty middle of the road effort, one that will draw some critical disdain but not a Nine level of resentment. I suspect it won't be the big box office hit that well-received musicals adapted from the stage (Les Mis, Mamma Mia!) have been, but presumably it fares better than flops like Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Star Wars: The Last Jedi Ferdinand Lady Bird The Disaster Artist Coco
Hugh Jackman: Logan Prisoners Australia | Michelle Williams: Wonderstruck Manchester by the Sea Oz the Great and Powerful
Zac Efron: High School Musical 17 Again | Rebecca Ferguson: Florence Foster Jenkins The Girl on the Train | Zendaya: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Written by Bill Condon: Dreamgirls Chicago
Musicals: La La Land Beauty and the Beast (2017) Nine Annie (1982) Annie (2014) Rock of Ages Jersey Boys Grease Live!
Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus Dumbo

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Reviewed December 20, 2017.

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