Wednesday 27 December 2017

Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Roll up, roll up! Hugh Jackman pulls on a top hat and steps into the big top for The Greatest Showman, a glitzy musical about PT Barnum.

Everything you need to know (or the movie wants you to know at least) about PT Barnum (Jackman) is condensed into a brief montage number; the son of a tailor who grows up with his heart set on making something of himself, Barnum spends his formative years smitten with Charity (Michelle Williams) before whisking her away to New York, starting a family and setting to work on pioneering showbusiness.

Right from the off, The Greatest Showman does everything it can to live up to its name. Glossy, ritzy and eager to please, the opening number is like a bombastic spin on We Will Rock You and a statement of intent – you will be entertained, this movie screams, and just enough to overlook our narrative shortcomings.

From here the soundtrack weaves its way through uplifting and hopeful ('A Million Dreams'), jazzy ('Come Alive'), punchy and whimsical ('The Other Side'), lovesick and sweet ('Rewrite the Stars') and defiant and destined for Oscar recognition ('This Is Me'), the last two of which are probably the highlights from a stacked tracklist. Zac Efron and Zendaya, who play smitten playwright Phillip Carlyle and trapeze artist Anne respectively, are especially good in their soaring duet, Rewrite the Stars. Everything in this set piece, from the vocals to the choreography, direction and editing, is superb.

The same can be said of Jackman's performance because hot damn this guy can sing and dance. To say that Jackman is giving it all he's got is the understatement of the century; he practically throws himself at the role, positively radiating energy and panache with every smirk and shake of the hips. I'm out of breath just thinking about how much effort he puts into it.

When The Greatest Showman is all singing and all dancing, it's firing on all cylinders. The rest of the time, it's just all right. Narratively, this thing is a bit of a mess, and you get the sense that the hour and 45-minute runtime was a lot longer once upon a time, only for someone higher up to step in and request it get cut back. Some character beats are either truncated or cut entirely, with the first act cutting to the meat of the story relatively fast and Efron and Zendaya's subplot taking a backseat.

For all its production and design brilliance (production is the key word here; the songs are overproduced and blare at you like someone is stood just in front of the screen with a extra large boombox), The Greatest Showman just can't quite go the extra mile to make us care about its central figure, even if this depiction of Barnum is heavily skewed already. After failing upwards the entire film, has he actually learned anything?

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Fun but throwaway, The Greatest Showman is in its element when the large ensemble is singing and dancing to their heart's content. Jackman channels his inhuman levels of energy to elevate a patchy screenplay whilst Efron and Zendaya are great if under-utilised.

The Greatest Showman is in cinemas across Australia now.

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