Films about circuses have been popular having taken many different genres form blockbuster (Cecil. B. Demille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH) to cheap 1966 horror (CIRCUS OF FEAR). THE GREATEST SHOWMAN aims at being both a biopic and a musical.
Hugh Jackman is a shoo-in for the role of singing P.T. Barnum, obtaining a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a musical or comedy in the process. Heart-throb Zac Ephron also eases into musical mode as smooth as in three HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL films. He plays Barnum’s friend and business partner..
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is a true musical at heart. Within the first 10 minutes, there are two songs performed already. The film also boasts to be an original musical, not to be confused with “BARNUM” that played on Broadway decades back. The songs are catchy with “This is Me”, largely performed by the bearded lady nominated for the Best Song Golden Globe. But the other songs (by the guys who wrote LALA LAND) are just as catchy (there have been few musicals these days with all good songs) with others just as good, if not better than “This is Me”. The choreography is also quite spectacular, and one cannot complain that there is not a full all out musical. It is a feel-good movie, so those wanting hard drama and musical-haters, be advised to stay away.
The story contains two romances, between P.T. Barnum and Charity (Michelle Williams) and the other between Phillip Carlyle (Ephron) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the acrobat and trapeze artist. The romantic chemistry is not all there, though Barnum’s and Charity’s is more believable.
Though the film traces how American showman P. T. Barnum became the founder of the circus that became the famous traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, there are also subplots like the romance as well as the diversion of the employment of famous Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) who almost destroys both his business and his marriage. Her singing performance is astonishing though Loren Alfred provides Lind’s singing voice. Ferguson lip syncs and fakes it quite well.
The film side steps certain points, like how Barnum suddenly obtained all the circus animals. The business aspect of the circus is only briefly mentioned in passing. It is quite hard to believe that the circus made it this big with so few acts and with no clowns at all in the film.
Director Gracey seems fond of emphasizing the fact of equality among performers. The protests in each visiting town of the residents against the circus ‘freaks’ finally conclude with a huge fire that destroys the circus building. In Demille’s THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, it was a train crash that almost destroyed the circus, here compared to the big fire.
The film should have more circus acts on screen time, so the audience can really feel the atmosphere of a circus. What is clearly missing in this circus film is the excitement and danger of a circus. Still, THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, though is not the greatest show in 2017 still makes appropriate Christmas entertainment.