The Greatest Showman (PG)

Drama 105 min. December 20, 2017
By April Wolfe
Michael Gracey's carefully sanitized P.T. Barnum biopic musical is a film for folks who thought Moulin Rouge was too racy and had too many distinct songs with distinct flavor or genre (soul/funk/rock) and would prefer instead that a computer algorithm that over-emphasizes the words "eyes," "stars" and "dream" spit out flattened, autotuned anthems. Hugh Jackman is charming, as ever, and two dance scenes are mildly inventive and well-executed, but that's not enough to earn the "greatest" in the title.

The second the movie opens we're thrown into a big song-and-dance number, where Barnum (Jackman) sashays and spins through a circus ring, adored by his also-dancing "freaks." And then that segues right into another song-and-dance number, where young Barnum (Ellis Rubin) is the poor son of a tailor trying to charm a little rich girl named Charity (Skylar Dunn). Then that turns into a montage of little Barnum writing letters to Charity, caring for his dying father, and stealing bread to survive, before joining a traveling circus and returning to propose to Charity. There's no breathing room between scenes, no respite where we can assess story or character. We're bombarded by pop ballads that demand we simultaneously look up at the sky but also close our eyes and dream. There are things to like. Zac Efron is infuriatingly talented. Efron (as Phillip Carlyle) and Jackman both radiate an impishness and glimmer. In another Efron number, Carlyle is paired with a trapeze artist named Anne Wheeler, a character based on Anita Hemmings and played by Zendaya, who swoops down on a rope to meet Carlyle, only to see her fly away again. It's lovely choreography, a genuinely thrilling moment in a film that's mostly Cirque du So Lame.
Michael Gracey Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya Jenny Bicks, Bill Condon Laurence Mark, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping 20th Century Fox

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