“The Greatest Showman” Movie Review


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     A wealth of talent, both in front of and behind the camera, support first time feature director Michael Gracey’s debut film “The Greatest Showman”, an electrifying extravaganza, featuring show stopping spectacle and heartfelt moments within an incredible story.  Starring Hugh Jackman, who showed plenty of musical chops in 2012’s “Les Miserables”, as P.T. Barnum, the film follows the rags to riches tale of how one man brought to life the seemingly impossible dream of creating the world’s most famous circus, all the while bringing hope to the talented outcasts, misfits, and performers he discovers along the way.  The film features a number of catchy songs, written by the award winning “La La Land” lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, all  of which are realized through incredible performances by Jackman and a fantastic ensemble that also includes Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, and Keala Settle.

     Taking place during the mid 1800s, we first meet a down on his luck kid named Phineas Taylor Barnum (Ellis Rubin), who grows up as an orphan and lives a life of poverty.  At times, he doesn’t know when he will eat, if at all, but that doesn't mean he lacks for imagination.  Early on, he sets his sights on a girl, Charity (Skylar Dunn), who comes from a wealthy family that immediately rejects the notion he could some day wed their daughter.  When the story moves about fifteen years into the future, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) shows up at Charity’s (Michelle Williams) door step and whisks her away, promising to provide her the best life he possibly can, a notion her father scoffs at.

     When the company Barnum works for goes bankrupt, he is forced to look for other ways to support his family that now consists not only of Charity, but two young daughters as well.  Barnum takes a loan out from the bank and gambles on a shuttered museum he believes can be turned into a profitable enterprise.  When initial sales prove otherwise, he has the sort of epiphany many creative types often have that sends them into a frenzy of imaginative possibilities.  One of which is the recruitment of those who are otherwise dismissed or hidden within society.  Labeled as freaks or unsightly to look at.  Soon that museum becomes a spellbinding show, complete with trapeze artists, the bearded lady, the world’s tallest man, the world’s shortest man, and the world’s heaviest man amongst many others.  Suddenly, the turnstiles begin spinning regularly and the show becomes all the rage at its Manhattan location.

     As a showman, it seemed as though Barnum had no equal, but success sometimes comes at a steep price.  When you have someone who comes from nothing and dreams this big, they really don't know when to stop building, often resulting in others close to them suffering the consequences of long hours and missing important events in their family’s lives.  To this, Barnum is no exception.  When he and his troupe are invited to visit the Queen of England, he meets a striking young singer named Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) who though popular in Europe, had yet to make her debut in the United States.  Barnum becomes determined to create  an American tour featuring Lind, a decision that impacts not only his family, but those within his show as well, since they become excluded when he graduates to hobnobbing with the upper class.

     There’s something incredibly satisfying about a story in which someone who comes from nothing refuses to allow their born into circumstances to deter them from achieving their goals.  After all, isn’t so much better when you’ve earned something through blood, sweat, tears, and sheer dedication rather than having it just given to you?  Barnum is not a perfect man.  He often suffers from a common reaction to success where you somehow forget where you came from, only to realize when it’s too late you have left some of those who got you there behind.  But thanks to his wife, as well as the loving family of entertainers around him, he works through the difficult times and realizes what he has created is much bigger than himself.  A lesson we can all learn from time to time.

     Gracey’s direction is impeccable, moving his camera about the show arena with a flawless sense of shot making.  The script by Jenny Bicks and “Chicago” scribe Bill Condon moves the story along smoothly, even when there are significant time jumps, giving each character a chance to shine and tell us something important about themselves.  But make no mistake, Jackson is the real showman here.  After officially departing from his Wolverine character in “Logan”, we now have an actor fully capable of the kind of range it takes to play P. T. Barnum and anchor The Greatest Show On Earth with all of the pulse pounding moments and unmatched stage presence of a true star.  “The Greatest Showman” is as entertaining a film as you will see all year and deserves the status that comes with being a true awards contender. 

GRADE: A