Thursday, December 28, 2017

Movie Review: The Greatest Showman

This circus musical has some catchy songs and surprising moments of entertainment even as it fails to examine its subject matter and puts an optimistic sheen to the story of success it tells. The film begins with a quick dance number and a little singing as P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) reflects on his impoverished childhood. As the son of a poor tailor, he catches the eye of a wealthy patron's daughter. His father dies and leaves him to survive on the streets and make enough money to finally propose to Charity (Michelle Williams) despite the misgivings of her father. Barnum promises Charity that they will be wealthy even as she insists that she has all they need with their two daughters. When Barnum is laid off, he decides to take out a loan to buy a museum and make a success out of it but at first, the patrons are not showing up. His daughter recommends that he bring life into the dusty museum and this sparks an idea.

In a montage, Barnum recruits unique individuals advertising them as curiosities, which starts to attract more crowds. One of the more interesting characters and better performances was of Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) as the bearded lady, but the movie does not have enough room to share the screen with anyone for long with Barnum at the center of the story. Of the few other characters that can steal the spotlight, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), a disgraced playwright, is recruited by Barnum to help him appeal to the wealthier customers in one of the better dance numbers. Carlyle is entranced by the acrobat Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) but their interracial relationship is frowned upon by the backward high-class Americans, including his parents. Barnum's star steadily rises and he gains the fame he so desperately seeks even receiving an invitation from the Queen of England. 

At Buckingham Palace, Barnum meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an extraordinary opera singer. He decides to turn his back on the individuals who helped propel him to fame and promote Lind, especially after she impresses a crowd in New York. He abandons the members of his circus and to take Jenny Lind on a tour. Even this glossed over version can't avoid scandal as rumors swirl around Barnum and Lind hinting at indiscretion. When Barnum tries to leave the tour to return to her family, Lind kisses him in front of a crowd. Angry citizens in New York decides to charge into the circus and set it afire. Barnum returns too late and loses all his investment as Lind cancels her tour. Charity learns the news and decides to return to her family home as her father predicted long ago. 

Barnum sulks at the bar but he is not the only one to have his life ruined when the circus burned down. The members of the crew rally around Barnum and he tries to dig up what he can from the circus. Carlyle proposes that he fund Barnum's next venture as he was smart enough to put away the money he was paid. Barnum has the idea of putting the circus in the iconic tent and achieves success with a final show before deciding to return to his family passing the baton to Carlyle. The film has a cheesy ending and I can't help wanting to see a more realistic version of Barnum's life, maybe on television, even as I liked all the music and some of the bombastic dancing performances.

The Greatest Showman has some things to say about success and how humans, especially driven white men, can never have enough and that certain circles will never be impressed no matter the success if an individual came from the wrong place. Jackman brings his best to a movie that can't really live up to his performance and I prefer his earlier acting this year as the iconic superhero. Efron has immense talent while Zendaya has a bright future attached to another superhero project and should have a ton of roles coming her way. Ferguson and Williams were also great in supporting female roles but Keala Settle really stuck for me as the most entertaining supporting character. However, Barnum's story doesn't share much room for minor characters. The film is enjoyable as a silly musical but nothing that will stick around beyond a little melody. 

No comments:

Post a Comment