By Adam Ray Palmer
Over the Christmas break, there’s normally a feel-good film released for all the family to see. If you want to go the extra ‘marketing mile’, you make said movie a musical and release it on Boxing Day.
Say hello (with jazz hands of course) to Michael Gracey’s showtune movie extravaganza The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Zendaya.
The Greatest Showman is a biographical musical about Phineas T. Barnum's life as a child, entrepreneur, museum owner, and entertainment pioneer. As a young boy, Phineas "Finn", meets Charity, the daughter of one of his father's wealthiest clients. A spark between the young pair ignites and lasts throughout their adolescence, even while she's away at boarding school.
Years later, Finn and Charity (played by Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams) marry and have two girls. Finn manages to secure finance to open up a museum ‘celebrating’ the uniqueness of certain individuals. These extraordinary people include a bearded lady Letty Lutz (Keala Settle), Tom Thumb (Sean Humphrey), and black brother-and-sister trapeze artists W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) – this museum quickly turns into what is known as a circus in the modern day, changing the world of entertainment forever. Although Barnum's show is critically panned, the masses love it.
The Greatest Showman is frustrating. It has all the foundations to be a cinema classic in the musical genre, but it’s quite a distance from that for me. There’s certainly positives here, but the negatives overpower leaving that niggling feeling of ‘what could have been’ when the credits roll. I have no qualms with the enthusiastic performances on show, in fact, they help propel this musical biopic and occasionally thrill the audience led by the peerless Jackman.
Whilst on the talent of Jackman, he’s an ideal fit to play the central protagonist. In fairness, though, who else out there could play the titular role? Perhaps something to consider. My biggest bugbear is the narrative pace and structure. It’s uneven and skips far too much of Barnum’s story to be a well-rounded piece. The Greatest Showman doesn't delve into some of the unpleasant aspects of Phineas’ life (like all the hoaxes he was accused of committing). This would have added a grittier edge to the movie, and perhaps appealed to a greater audience and critics alike.
The film isn’t all doom and gloom though, it does manage to entertain audiences with memorable original songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the award-winning lyricists for La La Land (told you the foundations were there!). The show-stopping anthems like Jackman's "The Greatest Show" and "A Million Dreams" and the romantic "Rewrite the Stars" -- a touching duet by Efron and Zendaya -- are the perfect draw for ‘Original Song’ categories across the award shows but that’s where the love will cease. I think as a film, it just about offers what you expect from your cinematic experience and nothing more. However, bang this on Broadway, it’ll have better luck.
Cineroom’s rating: 3 stars
The Greatest Showman is in UK cinemas now – certificate PG