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Posted at: Dec 29, 2017, 6:46 PM; last updated: Dec 29, 2017, 6:46 PM (IST)MOVIE REVIEW: THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

A jolly good show

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Film: The Greatest Showman

  • Director: Michael Gracey
  • Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams,Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya and Keala Settle
A jolly good show
A still from The Greatest Showman

Nonika Singh

Oh dear, on the start it seems so much like a Bollywood film and not merely because it comes packed with song after song. A poor boy, make that an upstart, actually son of a tailor, falls for a rich girl from an uppity family ready to be sent to a finishing school. Their love survives his struggles and her privileged life. Once the gooey moments are over, the story begins. 

But in this biopic of circus impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum, the feel good factor never leaves you. Not when he puts together this museum of curiosity and includes real people, oddities to be precise, not when he is unhappy about the fact that elite doesn’t accept him or that critics dismiss his work as humbug. A greater tragedy befalls him but as they say the show must go on… and it does with a joi de vivre hard to miss. 

Does the joy it purports to spread infectious enough? Yes, at points you want to join Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his gang especially Keala Settle as the bearded lady and tap along. Indeed, the real magic happens when Rebecca Ferguson appears as Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish opera singer and sings this beautiful number. A romance is hinted at…does it mar his marital happiness? Suffice it is to say all is well that ends well. If that tenor throttles you, stand warned. 

This biopic doesn’t really offer any great insights into the man or his life. Except for his ambition getting the better of him there are no real conflicts rather simple resolutions. It smoothens out all the rough edges in a rather old fashioned manner. But then Barnum (1810 – 1891) belonged to another era where few people dared to imagine beyond the given parameter.

And those like him who felt humanity suffers more for people, imagine less than more are also told, “You don’t need the entire world to love you…just a few good people are enough.” Indeed, the dialogues are crisp, even intelligent, and some even question the merit of critical appreciation which doesn’t come his way and what he begins to hanker after.

Jackman might have generously praised SRK (admiration by the way is mutual) and said he needs his help, the truth is this once theatre actor needs nobody to guide him to pull off his musical part. The way he moves his arms or dances or emotes… there isn’t a single flaw in his performance. If he stands overwhelmed by his show so do we by his act. Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle, his partner ‘overcompensated junior apprentice’, is remarkably effective too and so are the other actors who sing and dance with gusto and gay abandon. 

The Greatest Showman certainly isn’t the greatest or even a great film but puts together a jolly good show. Besides hummable numbers such as Million Dreams, It’s Me and Rewrite The Stars, it does bring to light what Barnum said, “I am a showman by profession...and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me,” However, if like his daughter in the film you too believe, “happiness is so boring” and songs are lullabies for you, then clearly this musical is not music for your ears. But with a runtime of 105 minutes it’s breezy, unencumbered and doesn’t weigh heavily on your time or mind. On the surface yes, entertainer yes…but then that’s what you ask and expect from a showman. A show that doesn’t get too real.    

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