Going for broke and wearing its heart on its sleeve for all to appreciate, The Greatest Showman is a corny yet engaging musical that embraces its overt positivity with stride.
An enthusiastically romanticised telling of how legendary American showman P.T. Barnum (portrayed by a wholly committed Hugh Jackman) worked his way from rags to riches with little more than determination and pluck, The Greatest Showman announces its affirmative temperament from the opening number; a bouncy tune, appropriately titled “The Greatest Show”, that sets the tone for the surprisingly modern-adjacent soundtrack.
Living in poverty with his supportive wife (Michelle Williams, all smiles and sweet nature) and two young daughters, Barnum hopes to reel in the townsfolk with an elaborate museum with the promise of the most curious creations inside. His venture is unsurprisingly a bust, but before the Bill Condon (Chicago) penned script can roll out another slickly choreographed number, a lightbulb moment occurs for Barnum – why sell fake curiosity when the real thing is far more elaborate.
Bearded ladies, gravity-defying acrobats, men of large stature in both their height and weight…Barnum recruited a slew of characters that society had unfairly shunned, and it wasn’t long before the very people that rejected them were coming in droves to witness their unique talents in a travelling troupe that would ultimately coin the term “the Circus”.
As far as plot goes, The Greatest Showman moves at an alarming pace, and its when the song and dance numbers are put on pause that the film momentarily falters. The dialogue is a little too on-the-nose at times, a vernacular that sheens the film in a candy-coated haze that highlights its camp factor, but given how heartfelt and traditional the film appears though, this device doesn’t feel entirely out of place.
Thankfully, the musical numbers are spliced within the story in rapid succession, and the La La Land writing duo of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul assure that each song and accompanying visuals are sumptuous to all the senses; the Golden Globe-nominated inspiration ballad “This Is Me” likely to earn accolades akin to La La Land‘s “City of Stars”.
As appropriately cheesy and just as hyperactive as the circus at its core, The Greatest Showman can’t help but charm its audience – if they are receptive to its vibe. This isn’t a subtle, finely tuned piece of art, this is cheery lunacy that revels in its attempt to call back on the positive musicals of the past, and thanks to the gentlemanly act of Jackman and his fine cohorts (a suitably suave Zac Efron as Barnum’s business partner, a stunningly icy Rebecca Ferguson as a famous singer, and an underused but still effortlessly charming Zendaya as a high-flying acrobat) it succeeds in putting on one hell of a show.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Greatest Showman hits cinemas Boxing Day