The Greatest Showman: DVD Review
If you're looking for a deep psychological take on PT Barnum, the infamous ringleader and potential exploiter of the outcasts, The Greatest Showman is not it.
If you're looking for a film where character forms the basis of the musical, rather than once over lightly characterisation, a film where the emotional attachment is formed because of the arc the leads are on, The Greatest Showman is not it.
But if you are looking for a sugar-coated, superficial, candy-rush of a spectacle, where toe-tapping songs are thrown in and which genuinely come close to pulling you out of your seat as you marvel at how white privilege can get you so far, then step right up, because The Greatest Showman is that - and then some.
A hugely charismatic Hugh Jackman leads the pack as PT Barnum, a dreamer whose desire to make a life for his wife Charity (Williams, all smiles and little else) and children is his driving force.
Hitting upon the notion of pulling together a troupe of outcasts, Barnum finds himself a ringmaster of success in the lower rent world. But chancing across a singer of class, Jenny Lind (Ferguson), Barnum feels he can win the acceptance he's never had his whole life - yet, at what cost...
The Greatest Showman aims to tackle bigotry, welcoming minorities and the whole pursuing your dreams angle but manages to do it all under a cloud of smoke and a hint of mirrors.
That's not to deny this typical rags to riches and then back to rags before back to riches story doesn't have some truly impressive toe-tapping songs to carry you from one distraction to the next. There's the wondrous This Is Me and Come Alive which really wind up the energy and give the film a pizazz and verve that are hard to deny.
And Jackman is perfectly cast, with a great deal of charisma and charm to carry you along this superficial journey. His is a Barnum who faces problems with a song and a dance, and this infectious attitude may well help you to paper over the weaker narrative cracks.
Principally, the invented conflict that appears in the film feels thrown in rather than earned; there are meta touches about a theatre critic picking away at what Barnum's doing and how a critic's job is a joyless one.
Racial tensions are thrown into the fore, because that's what The Greatest Showman wants to do and damned if you can stop them with your rational thinking.
And yet, much like Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge and La La Land, there's an infectious beat to all this which is hard to deny in its frippery and flippancy. Although unlike those two, there's not the emotional depth to carry it all along - but it's impossible to deny that you won't be carried along by it.
In many ways, The Greatest Showman is perhaps the perfect film for this time of the year - it's light, fluffy, family-oriented, brain-be-damned, blessed with only a small hint of danger and is an easy antidote to seasonal excess. It offers simple easy solutions to bigger problems facing its protagonists and is hell bent on sending you on your merry way with a song in your heart and not a care in your world.
It's admirable after what 2017 has thrown at us from Hollywood, but much like any big show and musical with Barnum as its lead, The Greatest Showman is all about the conman whirling his baton and seducing us - to which, one suspects, many will willingly submit.