To be honest, “The Greatest Showman” shouldn’t have been a success when you take into account how if flies in the face of current Hollywood trends. It’s an old fashioned PG rated family musical that’s not based on existing material, its main character has a somewhat sketchy past in terms of the exhibitions he used to stage, and it’s not a sequel or a reboot of an existing property. Despite all these things it walked away with a Golden Globe for best original song this year, an Academy Award nomination in the same category, and close to half a billion dollars at the box office, and that doesn’t include a bestselling soundtrack to boot. Of course, the reason that it is such a success is because it’s a fantastic film that’s terrifically put together and the cast are totally invested in it.
The film is loosely based on the life of PT Barnum, one half of the founders of the Barnum and Bailey circus which ran from 1871 to 2017. Hugh Jackman stars as Barnum and he’s absolutely perfect for the role. If you’re expecting the same type of performance that he gave in “Les Miserables” you can think again. While that film was a far more emotional prospect, this film is purely theatrical in a similar vein to “Moulin Rouge” (except that film relied heavily on existing music that was rearranged) but it’s not quite as out there. Jackman sings and dances his way through some brilliantly written songs from the song writing duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Trolls”, “La La Land”) and some exquisite choreography. The film lives or dies on Jackman’s performance and if he wasn’t fully into it, the film would not work. You can always tell when something is a passion project for the guy, in a similar way to “Logan”, because there’s a genuine enthusiasm in his performance when he’s on screen.
The rest of the cast are no slouches either. Zack Efron and Zendaya are great in their supporting roles, as is Michelle Williams as Barnum’s wife, Charity. Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) has a small but very effective role as a very well known opera singer of this time, Jenny Lind. The actors that play Barnum’s “oddities”, the people he put on display in his museum, are very good as well, particularly Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz, a bearded lady with the voice of a diva. Specific mention should be given to the kids in the movie that played young PT Barnum, young Charity, and the two girls that play their daughters.
While he has directed adverts before, first-time feature film director Michael Gracey absolutely nails the tone of the film so that it perfectly complements the music. The songs are written in such a way that they feel familiar despite being new. I will admit, when the first song started with its modern production style against the period setting I wasn’t sure how this was going to go, but once the film settles into itself those fears are put to one side. The songs are excellently written and feature chord progressions, melodies, and harmonies you can sometimes see coming before they arrive, but that still doesn’t make their arrival any less enjoyable. Coincidentally, the same can be said for the film. It’s somewhat predictable, but when a film can generate so much joy in its viewers, how can that be a bad thing. Pick this up, leave your cynicism at the door, and you’ll have a great time.
The words of our man Kevin Dillon @kevinwritestuff.
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