A period drama, directed by debutant Michael Gracey, the film is an original musical, loosely based on the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, a visionary who rose from nothing to become a worldwide sensation of his times.
P.T. Barnum was an American showman, politician and businessman remembered for founding one of the earliest circus in the US — the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Set in the mid-19th century, the film tells us how as a kid of humble origin, Phineas faced discrimination because he was a tailor’s son. Also being a dreamer who won’t amount to anything remarkable, he was cast aside by the community, especially the father of the girl he loves.
He decides to “run away to the world, we design” and starts off as a railway employee. He gradually marries Charity (Michelle Williams), the woman of his dreams and lands up working in a boring clerical job. It is only after being fired from that job as the company becomes bankrupt, that Phineas ponders as to what he wants from life.
Soon, he realises that his calling is in amusing people, “cause every night I lie in bed, the brightest colours fill my head. A million dreams are keeping me awake”. So he decides to open a museum which gradually takes the shape of a circus and his dreams eventually come true after hard times and much hesitation.
The tale tabulates his meteoric rise and delivers on the theatrics and wide-eyed buoyancy of a man fulfilling his dreams and rising above his class. The film does not pride itself on dramatics or originality in terms of story, instead choosing to excel in other areas.
The script, written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, is definitely a rose-tinted version of reality but nevertheless it is an awe-inspiring piece of escapism. With eleven songs in the narrative, the film is an extravaganza with excellent composition and choreography by choreographer Ashley Wallen.
The songs range from emotional to straight-up toe-tapping songs. While all the songs are excellent and seamlessly mesh with the plot, the choreography of “How do we rewrite the stars” picturised on Zac Efron and Zendaya, stands out.
Initially, the flavour of the narrative does seem synthetic, but when one of the odd characters reiterates and sings, “when the sharpest words cut me down this is me”, the beat changes and the film touches an emotional chord.
Forever charming, Hugh Jackman does slip into Barnum’s skin perfectly, but it is this conventional hero character that makes the film seem contrived.
Jackman is aptly supported by Michelle Williams who plays Charity, his angelic wife and mother to his two daughters, Zac Efron as the love-struck actor Phillip Carlyle who becomes his business partner, Zendaya as the trapeze artist and Efron’s love interest, Rebecca Fergusson as the singer Jenny Lind. They are all impressive in their respective space and elevate the viewing experience with their performances.
Of the other supporting actors, it is Sam Humphrey as the diminutive Charles Stratton and Keala Settle as the “bearded lady” Lettie who are given significant screen time
The production designs by Nathan Crowley and the costumes by Ellen Mirojnick are impressive to say the least. They are astutely captured by Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey’s lens whose frames are seamlessly laid by the editing team comprising of Tom Cross, Robert Duffy, Joe Hutshing, Michael McCusker, Jon Poll and Spencer Susser. Some of the transitions are effectively outstanding.
Overall, “The Greatest Showman”, is remarkably rousing and entertaining.
Film: “The Greatest Showman”; Director: Michael Gracey; Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Paul Sparks, Sam Humphrey, Aystyn Johnson and Cameron Seely