Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Not Very Interesting Showman

I never thought I would see Hugh Jackman upstaged by Zac Efron. Jackman stars as the flawed but good-natured conman and showman P.T. Barnum, whose dreams and drive will lead the unemployed clerk into creating the world's first circus. Director Michael Gracey's elaborate musical has several problems, including (but no limited to) the film is far less epic than intended, most of the musical numbers are forgettable, plot issues are immediately solved with minimal effort (sometimes even off camera), and its main character is the least interesting thing about the entire project. Other than that, it's an okay show.

Jackman's Barnum is a bland lead compelled to rise above his station and prove his worth. Despite the infectious dream he shares, and the family he creates, he's often a selfish and unlikable character. The cast of supporting characters include Michelle Williams as Barnum's wife, Rebecca Ferguson as Barnum's first legitimate act, Efron as Barnum's business associate and Zendaya as the trapeze artist he falls for, and a collection of oddities, freaks, and exhibits which Barnum fills his circus including Keala Settle and Sam Humphrey.

For a movie about a man who thrived on spectacle, The Greatest Showman has a short supply. There's nothing to Barnum's family story that is at all compelling. I enjoyed the Efron/Zendaya pairing far more (and not only because it results in the best song of the film). And while there's plenty of opportunity for the movie to explore the odd characters which Barnum will show off (to profit himself most of all), we don't ever get to know any of them in any more detail than than as a midget, a bearded lady, and so on. Here's a wealth of material unmined in favor of Barnum alternatively feeling great or sorry about himself. The result is mildly entertaining, in its best moments, but hardly great.

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