‘No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.’
So my last film of 2017 becomes my first review of 2017 – and what a film to start with. There’s a speak of great about it, a hint of what-might-have-been awesome-ness. For the most part the film drifts along okay – aside from some ishy ethical issues about the circus, which followed Barnum (aka The Greatest Showman) around during his life and long after. But there are a handful of moments, littered throughout, when this film real shines.
The main issue the film has is its primary focus is on the man himself – the original showman P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) – and his rise/fall. The early stages are great at setting up the scene and his character, breezily showing his childhood and meeting Charity (Michelle Williams). ‘A Million Dreams‘ is a particularly sweet number that establishes their relationship and their differing senses of ambition. But from there on out it’s a bit of tonal mish-mash. Worst of all, for a film about entertainment and show business, it does get a bit dull at times. Certain things happen that could have been told with more wonder, if they really needed to be told at all.
And yet. Since first hearing a snippet of ‘This Is Me’ in the film’s trailer many moons ago, I feel head over heels with the song. It’s become something on an anthem for me and it’s showcase in the film truly didn’t disappoint. In fact it’s one of the standout moments of the film, when it all comes together as you wish it would for the entire film. Keala Settle’s voice is astonishingly, so full of power and emotion. The choreography is kickass and empowering. The costumes and setting beautiful. And her performance itself is the very heart of the number which, as this backstage video shows, has been there for the very beginning.
The other most memorable number, aside from Hugh Jackman’s cracking start to proceedings ‘The Greatest Show‘ , is ‘Rewrite The Stars‘ the beautiful duet between Zac Efron and Zendaya. Again, with both songs, they’re real showstoppers. Beautifully staged, choreographed and performed.
It’s just a real shame the film doesn’t live up to these moments, whilst they dazzle at full wattage – the rest of the film really doesn’t. The plot is by-the-numbers rags-to-riches and for the most part avoids any too-close examination of who exactly Barnum was and how he actually treated the people in his life. That includes his troupe of variety acts, none of whom get as much characterisation as they deserve. They remain archetypes, noticeable only for the very reason they’re in the trope – which massively undermines the messages the film sings about standing out from the crowd, believing in yourself and self-acceptance.
However, if you’re able to ignore those things, in return you get an old-fashioned musical that puts on a serviceable show. The central cast are clearly having the time of their lives and through everything at their roles. It feels like a role Jackman was born to play and its great fun to watch him perform. It’s far from flawless and yet it’ll have you leaving the aisles smiling.