The Greatest Showman
dir Michael Gracey
scr Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon
prd Peter Chernin, Laurence Mark, Jenno Topping
with Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Sam Humphrey, Paul Sparks, Cameron Seely, Austyn Johnson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ellis Rubin
release US 20.Dec.17, UK 26.Dec.17
17/US Fox 1h45
The Greatest Showman
Let's make a deal: Efron and Jackman

williams ferguson zendaya
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Greatest Showman The true story of how PT Barnum created what we know now as the travelling circus is told in the florid style of Moulin Rouge with songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land). It's a colourfully swirling concoction that never quite feels real but touches on some robust themes that make it linger in the mind along with its wildly catchy tunes. And it's produced with a lot of panache.

After growing up poor in the early 19th century, PT (Jackman) is determined to join high society in New York, marrying Charity (Williams) against her wealthy parents' wishes. After losing his job, he opens a museum of oddities, including performers like a mixed-race aerial artist (Zendaya), bearded lady (Settle) and diminutive soldier (Humphrey). The city's top critic (Sparks) becomes his nemesis, as does a mob of haters and the posh people PT wants to mix with. Seeking respectability, he hires theatre writer Phillip (Efron) and brings opera diva Jenny Lind (Ferguson) over from Europe.

First-time director Gracey keeps the energy levels high, creating a fantastical atmosphere that condenses several decades of Barnum's life into what seems like about a year. But realism certainly isn't the point. Like Barnum's own work, the film is about spectacle. Characters aren't terribly complex, although the actors mine the screenplay for intriguing angles. The topical undercurrents are far more involving, exploring a community of outcasts who defiantly create a family.

The film's song and dance stylings are perfectly suited to natural showmen like Jackman and Efron, who have a great time with each big musical number. They also create characters who are easy to identify with. Williams, Ferguson and Zendaya have to work a bit harder to bring their characters out of the shadows of the story, but all three register strongly. And with her powerful voice and soulful personality, Settle emerges as the heart of the film.

This isn't a definitive depiction of PT Barnum's life, as it sidesteps any edgier aspects. But it's a nice look at the nature of salesmanship, and how success and failure take a toll on loved ones. Intriguingly, the screenplay's approach toward bigotry and prejudice is more like things are today than in the mid 19th century. But then not much about this movie feels vintage, certainly not the flashy production design, eye-catching effects and athletic stunts. Not to mention pop tunes that are impossible to get out of your head.

cert pg themes, violence 9.Dec.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall