It’s not every day that you can point to a precise moment in a movie and label it is as THE moment where it lost most of the critics.
In the case of “The Greatest Showman,” however, it happens the second that P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) takes his first swipe at persnickety newspaper critic. As the sporadic shots directed at critics continued, I could pretty much hear the tomatoes splattering on a certain website.
And, largely, the negativity I expect it to receive will be misplaced.
P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) comes alive with the oddities in 20th Century Fox’s “The Greatest Showman.” (Photo by Niko Tavernise. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.)
That’s not to say the film is perfect, or even really good for that matter. What it is though is a visual spectacle filled with wonder and catchy, energetic song-and-dance sequences, fronted by an actor who shows there’s more to him than muttonchops and adamantium claws.
A young Barnum sees how the other half lives, and how they treat those in his half, by shadowing his father (a tailor). On one particular day, Barnum’s precocious nature earns him stern punishment at the hands of an overzealous customer, who further ups the ante by shipping his daughter, Charity, who just happens to be the object of the young man’s affections, to boarding school.
A still young Barnum finds himself alone, destitute, and desperate. Despite all of this, he and Charity remain in contact and eventually the pen pals become lovers.
When the now-adult Barnum (Jackman) returns to Charity’s (Michelle Williams) parents’ home years later to make her his bride, he is again dressed down by her father. Not deterred, he promises Charity the life he feels she deserves. That’s easier said than done, however, as his early skillsets didn’t necessarily lend themselves to prosperity.
P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams) share an enchanting dance on a New York rooftop in 20th Century Fox’s “The Greatest Showman.” (Photo by Niko Tavernise. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.)
Using his imagination – and a fair amount of deceit – he purchases an old museum, which eventually morphs to include “oddities” – much to the disdain of New York City elites.
In an attempt to gain favor and the social status he craves, Barnum recruits the help of a young promoter, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and a world-class vocalist, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).
As Barnum’s profile increases, his focus wanes and he loses sight of what’s truly important.
As I mentioned, the best word to describe “The Greatest Showman” is “spectacle.” There are interesting looking characters, costumes, and sets; the songs – especially the vocal performances – are bold and engaging; the choreography big and all-encompassing; and Jackman’s multiple talents are on full display.
Hugh Jackman (P.T. Barnum) and Zac Efron (Philip Carlisle) star in 20th Century Fox’s “The Greatest Showman.” (Photo by Niko Tavernise. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.)
That said, in those brief moments when the music isn’t bombastic and the imagery not over-the-top flashy, it kind of grinds to a halt. But, at least in theory, you could say that about any musical. And “The Greatest Showman” is a musical in very way – as opposed to a movie that features a fair amount of music.
You’ll see others dive into the historical accuracy of the film, but you’re not getting that from me. While the story is based on real people and presumably-real situations, I don’t assume the real Barnum was running around singing and dancing all day. As such, I view this as a loosely-connected piece of historical fiction, rather than a musical biopic.
Is it perfect? No, actually far from. But it’s entertaining enough that if you suspend belief for a couple of hours you should have a good time, and it’s inoffensive enough – unless you’re an overly sensitive critic – that it should appeal to a wide audience
★★★ of ★★★★★