A year ago at this time I was sharing (with anyone who would listen) my tepid reaction to La La Land. The mediocre and needlessly depressing movie had some snazzy tunes, sure, but the on-screen talent couldn’t keep up, and the result was more meh than marvelous.

Those tunes I mentioned came courtesy of Pasek and Paul, the Tony-winning composers behind Dear Evan Hansen and A Christmas Story: The Musical, and now the duo is back, providing the backbone for Michael Gracey’s eminently entertaining The Greatest Showman. The musical celebration of the life and career of P. T. Barnum, Showman is an energetic, touching, and dazzling film that overcomes its minor shortcomings to emerge as a rousing (and entirely family-friendly) success.

Fresh off his career-best turn in Logan earlier this year, Hugh Jackman again brings his charisma and talent to the forefront in Showman, imbuing it with gobs of energy and heart as he sings and struts his way through the well-crafted story. It’s a performance that has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and though it doesn’t require the gravitas that the Oscar frontrunners all offer up, it’s no less noteworthy.

The film begins in the early 1800s as Barnum, the son of a tailor, first meets young Charity Hallett. Despite being dispatched to finishing school, Charity (played as an adult by the always-excellent Michelle Williams) keeps in touch with Barnum, and the two get married. After his job as a clerk in a shipping company goes kaput, Barnum, now also supporting two young daughters, cons his way into a hefty loan so he can open a museum of wax figures and taxidermied animals. As it falters, and at his daughters’ urging, the museum expands to include live people—freaks of nature and people with extraordinary talents, including the bearded lady and tattooed man.

The museum is a hit, and The Greatest Showman is off and running, brought to life not only by the colorful characters and the magnetism of its stars but by the stellar musical numbers. From the opening “The Greatest Show” to the climactic (and also-Globe nominated) “This is Me”, there isn’t a stinker in the bunch. And by the time we get to the show-stopping “Never Enough” by famed soprano Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson, with singing by Loren Allred)—whose 1850 U.S. tour Barnum produced—it’s clear The Greatest Showman is really onto something.

To be sure, there are a handful of times newbie director Gracy seems to be over his head. The set pieces occasionally seem too constrained on the movie screen, as if he forgot that he was directing a movie and instead felt as though he had to cram everything onto a single stage, but there are also more than a few bits of nifty camera trickery to keep things fresh and inventive. The script by Jenny Bicks (Rio 2) and Bill Condon (Chicago) is, likewise, not perfect; it’s a little too gooey in places and melodramatic in others, but there’s no fatal flaw there.

The bottom line is that Barnum, known for creating the Greatest Show on Earth, is a fascinating character, and The Greatest Showman does him justice; it’s far more marvelous than meh.


4/5 stars