The Greatest Showman

I missed the screening for this movie months ago, and I thought the studio had sent me a DVD screener. In November and December, critics are inundated with packages filled with stuff. When I finally sat down to watch it, I realized it was the soundtrack they had sent me. I then flew back to the East Coast for the holidays, and by the time I got back, the movie had gotten enough bad reviews that I wasn’t eager to see it. Since my wife (like 97% of the women of the world), loves Hugh Jackman…it was off to the Angelika Film Center to see it. It’s still showing there and a few other places, so I thought I’d write a review.

The good news is — it’s not as bad as many critics said. The bad news is — it’s not a very good movie. Much like Baby Driver, it’s a bunch of good music videos, just not a great story. Especially since very little of it has to do with the real life P.T. Barnum had. No, they don’t cover the fact that he owned slaves, and…instead of the idea that he exploited “sideshow freaks” for financial gain, he was more of an avuncular figure to these misfits, that got them steady work and made them feel like they were part of his family.

Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon gave us the screenplay, and you can’t fault them for wanting to make an elaborate musical, with gorgeous set pieces. This is also Australian director Michael Gracey’s first film, so you can’t fault him for this valiant effort.

Oscar and Tony winning songwriters Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind the songs in La La Land, gave us a few good tunes but also a few disappointing ones. For example, the song/dance involving a trapeze, between Zendaya and Zac Efron is incredible. They have terrific chemistry, and it’s a wonderfully choreographed number. Yet my wife commented on the other songs, saying, “It seemed like these repetitive songs were all diversity anthems, covering the same subjects.”

As we were leaving, my wife (who surprisingly didn’t like the movie as much as I did), added, “It’s weird timing that this movie comes out, just as circuses are now closed because of all the protests about how the animals are treated. And I just can’t stop thinking that this wasn’t nearly as good as the musical it reminded me of — Moulin Rouge.”

I never saw Moulin Rouge, and…didn’t occur to me to look at the closing credits to see if any elephants were hurt during the filming; but those are both valid points she makes.

Although I’m not the biggest fan of Hugh Jackman’s singing voice, he does a terrific job in the role. There aren’t many actors that could’ve pulled it all off as convincingly as he did.

Swedish model/actress Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible and The White Queen) is great as Swedish opera legend Jenny Lind (although it’s Loren Allred, from Utah, doing the singing).

Michelle Williams, who has yet to give a disappointing performance, is wonderful as Barnum’s wife Charity.

The set pieces were obviously beautiful, and if you’re a fan of musicals, you shouldn’t miss this on the big screen. If you want a story, unfortunately, it’s a formulaic rags-to-riches tale. It would be great if a biopic was done on P.T. Barnum — warts and all. I also wouldn’t mind seeing one on Lind, who made $350,000 on her tour with Barnum (that would be about $14 million today), and she gave almost all of that to charity (not Barnum’s wife, but schools in Sweden).

In a time when Hollywood actors and producers are facing the wrath of women they wronged years ago…you wonder why more people aren’t complaining about how Barnum’s story here is so whitewashed.

2 ½ stars out of 5.