Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.
My last film of 2017 is ‘The Greatest Showman’, an original musical based loosely on the life of circus impresario P. T. Barnum, played here by Hugh Jackman. The opening number introduces us to Barnum as a child and he’s portrayed as an ambitious dreamer, with lofty hopes for his life, before we rejoin him as an adult, married to Charity (Michelle Williams) and father to two daughters. His dreams of stardom never fade and he decides to open what would later become a circus, focusing on ‘freak’ attractions to perform for the New York public. Like the majority of musicals, the narrative is structured to fit round the songs, and it helps significantly that the original music produced by Pasek and Paul is mostly strong.
Jackman is a good lead and he’s ably joined by a supporting cast that includes the likes of Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya, who is particularly good as a trapeze artist. The film does waste Michelle Williams somewhat, with an actress of her talent capable of much more than playing the background role of ‘the main character’s wife’. The film is unashamedly cheesy and corny, and the style harkens back to musical cinema of the past, particularly the MGM era of the 50s, but I thought it mostly worked as an enjoyable film to pass a couple of hours. The plot doesn’t go anywhere you wouldn’t expect and it all plays out in a predictable fashion but I didn’t really have a problem with this when the musical numbers are good and are performed with a great deal of visual flair from first time director Michael Gracey and the cast.
There are some social elements hinted at through the negative attitude of the locals towards the ‘freaks’ at the circus, but ‘The Greatest Showman’ never attempts (nor has any interest) in digging any deeper than the surface level view and that’s fine – this is a film pitching itself as light entertainment and I don’t think the tone would have felt right if it spent more time on this aspect. ‘The Greatest Showman’ is an entertaining musical to finish off the year, with a strong lead performance from Hugh Jackman and fun, energetic songs performed well by a game cast, and I’m glad I took the time to go and see it.
Directed By: Michael Gracey
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle and Paul Sparks