The Greatest Showman
The Greatest Showman is the most recent proof that if a movie’s songs aren’t good, there’s a good chance the overall work fill follow suit.
The feature directorial debut of Michael Gracey gets off to a rocky start with an awkward-looking preteen P.T. Barnum (Ellis Rubin) singing “I Want” song “A Million Dreams” about his desires beyond a life of poverty.
Here and elsewhere, the La La Land lyrical team of Justin Paul and Benj Pasek deeply miss Justin Hurwitz’s orchestration, the absence of which suggests a marked limitation to their songwriting skills. That’s not to say viewers want La La Land in a Circus, per se, but some semblance of the temporary Best Picture winner’s joy would be nice.
The Greatest Showman improves somewhat on a performance level as the youngster morphs into adult Barnum (Hugh Jackman), who sets on proving the wealthy parents of his wife Charity (an out of place Michelle Williams) wrong about his career prospects.
As Barnum turns entrepreneurial and seeks unusual humans to be in his production, Gracey rolls out an engaging montage of the ringleader finding the performers in the field or by audition, though how trapeze artists Anne (Zendaya) and W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) get lumped in with bearded woman songstress Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) as societal outsiders remains a mystery.
Channeling his High School Musical days, Zac Efron is far more charismatic than Jackman, doing what he can with the part of scandalized high society member Phillip Carlyle, who helps bring his type of people to the circus.
Reminiscent of “No Dames” from Hail, Caesar!, “The Other Side,” Barnum’s recruitment of Phillip in a tavern, is one of the film’s few musical numbers that escape being labeled as “sloppy.” Supported by an agile bartender, quick to dispense new drinks and collect discarded empties, the sequence is decently edited and synched, suggesting what The Greatest Showman might have been.
Afterward, it’s back to lame and predictable plotting involving Barnum’s infatuation with talented singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and that crush’s effects on his marriage and business. Just what our hero decides should come as no surprise to even casual viewers, but considering the talent assembled, the blandness with which his make-or-break moments play out is downright shocking.
Grade: D-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)