Hugh Jackman stars as legendary circus impresario P. T. Barnum in this Moulin-Rouge-esque, fantasy-romance movie-musical. It’s spectacular and uplifting in the extreme, with a script and direction that would make producers of the classic escapist Hollywood musicals blush — but despite its blatant, almost parodic commercialism, it works.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the songwriting duo behind Broadway’s sold-out smash hit Dear Evan Hansen, and the lyricists to 2016’s multi-award-winning La La Land) provide the power-pop, hyper-produced, High-School-Musical-esque soundtrack. The anachronistic juxtaposition of lavish, 19th century period costume and design with rocking pop anthems is what this film is all about.
While the movie goes some way to portray P. T. Barnum’s mistreatment and exploitation of his “freaks”, along with his willingness to lie and cheat the American public in order to make money, this movie’s Barnum focuses around his quote, “The noblest art is that of making others happy”, and portrays Barnum as a rags-to-riches, all-American, golden-hearted entrepreneur and family man. It’s nicer that way.
As well as the gorgeous production design, the central performances by Hugh Jackman, a dour Zac Efron and a glimmering Rebecca Ferguson, all lend the candyfloss story some real charisma and truth. It’s strange that the world-famous 1980 Broadway musical Barnum has still not been adapted for the silver screen, but this new beast is guaranteed to be a big hit with teens and anyone else looking for a thick slice of pure, concentrated American commercialism.
The Greatest Showman is showing in IMAX (2D) in selected cinemas.