The Greatest Showman

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The Greatest Showman

Hugh Jackman steals the show in a Baz Luhrmann-y confection that's candy for the eyes but frustratingly slight.

In a year with no Baz Luhrmann movie, ‘The Greatest Showman’ fills the gap with a big, brassy, unashamedly over-the-(big)-top circus musical with one eye on the multiplex and one on the pop charts. As befits an origin story for legendary American impresario, entrepreneur and snake oil salesman PT Barnum and his troupe of talented oddballs and outsiders, it’s low on subtlety, high on spectacle and crams its poppy, hummable tunes so far down your ear holes you’ll need a Q-tip to fish them out.

First-time director Michael Gracey packs the big numbers with visual snap, but this is the Hugh Jackman show all the way. The Aussie engages likeability, hips and vocal chords to haul us into the film’s rich nineteenth-century fantasia and Barnum’s giddy journey from scrappy outsider to wealthy circus master. The story swaggers forward in a swirl of choreographed pop numbers by ‘La La Land’ songwriters Pasek and Paul as Barnum recruits his novelty acts. This ‘X-Men’ meets ‘America’s Got Talent’ posse includes Keala Settle’s bearded lady, Zendaya’s acrobat and Sam Humphrey’s diminutive Tom Thumb. Standing between his circus ‘freaks’ and showbiz stardom is an angry mob of protesters and Paul Sparks’ frosty theatre critic, a snobbish cipher for high society’s contempt for Barnum’s rowdy new art form.

There are obvious parallels in all this with the culture war currently waging in America, and between the grasping, PR-savvy Barnum and Donald Trump, but Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon’s script tacks carefully around them. There’s no appetite to turn over the stone to see what lay beneath this master of hokum, either. Instead, we’re washed by waves of empowerment and dialogue that feels lifted from a motivational postcard. But it cuts only one way when it comes to the two women in his life. As his loyal wife Charity and her love rival, opera star Jenny Lind, Michelle Williams and Rebecca Ferguson are landed with frustratingly dull and underwritten roles. Tellingly, we always learn more about Barnum than either of them during their encounters with him.

But while it may not be strong on nuance and the story moves with all the careful pacing of a human cannonball, it’s got gusto and verve in abundance. An old-fashioned musical with a none-more-zeitgeisty songsheet, it may not be a flawless piece of storytelling, but it’s a pretty decent show.

By: Phil de Semlyen

Posted:

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Monday December 26 2016
Duration: 105 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Michael Gracey
Screenwriter: Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon
Cast: Hugh Jackman
Michelle Williams
Rebecca Ferguson

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Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:5
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:1
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LiveReviews|9
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Tastemaker

Lovely film! Hugh Jackman's character comes from nothing, and makes something of his life, as an entertainer, and a showman. The highlight of the film is the music, which was very catchy!

tastemaker

The story pulls at the heart strings - poor boy did well. The music is fabulous. Hugh Jackman is fabulous.Barnum's circus was probably fabulous at the time. Hugh Jackman is fabulous. Oh, have I already said that? What's not to like?

tastemaker

I’ve got a thing for musicals and this hit the top notes for me! From the best of the first song to the last I was hooked on glittery costumes, fairytale rooftops, ballsy ballads and chaotic choreography. Granted we’ve seen these things before from Hugh in Les Mis and Zac in the glorious High School Musical, but this show has an element of other-worldly ness, a magical 2hrs that brings you into the special world of Barnum and his circus. It manages to fit in enough romance, misfits, misfortune and betrayal into the plot that even my Dad surprisingly loved it. The songs stood out for me as they were all catchy without coming across cheesy, which can be the downfall of any musical. Five stars!

tastemaker

I saw this movie a couple days ago and it was that good I went again the day after!!! I am not used to see many movies twice let along going to see it twice at the cinema!! The sets are absolutely amazing, beautiful fabrics and colours all over the place (made me think about Le Moulin Rouge a few times). I must admit I’m not a music expert but I loved the songs and just wanted to sing along!! Hugh Jackman is breathtaking in this movie, nothing he cannot do! It definitely is a must see.

Tastemaker

This film has a brilliant trailer. Bold, colourful and packed with a beaming Hugh Jackman singing his heart out as though he was a first round contestant on ‘The Voice’, it looks like the perfect Christmas film for the whole family…which made it even more worse when I watched the whole thing and was beyond disappointed to find out that it was, in fact, pretty dreadful. 


To be fair to Hugh, he does what he does and he does it well. He sings like a lark, he dances like a trouper and he promises to make everything right for everyone at every opportunity. Problem is, he’s playing a man who’s really not that nice and it’s hard to fully engage or empathise with someone you not only don’t care about but really wouldn’t want to spend any quality time with either...lines such as ‘they’re laughing at you already, you might as well make some money from it’ don’t exactly mark you out as anything other than a businessman focused on the bottom line rather than the quality of someone’s life.

The film also moves at the speed of – completely unbelievable – light and there’s never enough time given to see how he gets from one life stage to another. The director was clearly hellbent on getting every major event in Barnum’s life on screen, something which comes at the cost of being able to believe in what you’re seeing. 


The circus cast are good but are never given any real depth of character whilst the voices of experience – Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson – have roles they could play in their sleep. I had the utmost sympathy for the luminous Ferguson (who I love but who seems to continuously perplex Hollywood casting directors) who at one point had a scene to perform that seemed so out of her comfort zone, I had to wince and look away. 


The score and songs are from the same Oscar winning team behind last year’s ‘La La Land’ and they are one of the only good things about the film whose last scene made me laugh out loud and not in a good way. Sure it looked beautiful and the hair & makeup was on point but wouldn’t you expect that from what is in effect, a costume drama musical? As far as cinematic disappointments go, ‘The Greatest Showman’ was the greatest flop of 2017 for me.


Fabulous just fabulous!! I was blown away by the opening bars. I found this visually sumptuous, funny, touching & the music was brilliant. The set pieces were gorgeous & very Moulin Rouge-esque. Can’t believe critics have given this poor ratings. It is an immediate classic & I want to see it again & again!!


Much much better than the critics give it credit for. Fantastic committed performances from all the cast, sumptuous cinematography and loads of show-stopping tunes. The moral message is clear and welcome. Primary colors no doubt, but what else is a big barnstorming musical meant to be?

Tastemaker

This was the last film I saw in 2017 and I’m confident to say it was the best movie of the year.

Absolutely breathtaking, brilliant and engaging from the first minute.

Wonderful performances from the entire cast.

tastemaker

A classic Rag to Riches story with a classic backdrop and beautiful new songs to compliment.

The cast not only excel by themselves however show beautiful unity to tell the story through all it's twists and turns.


I came out singing the chorus to all the songs and relating to numerous characters for different reasons.