The Greatest Showman

 

            “The Greatest Showman” is first and foremost a musical.  It is only secondarily a biopic of P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American businessman who became famous for his “freak shows” that would become the infamous circus.

            Hugh Jackman is superb in the starring role.  Yes, he can sing, but he's also an A-list actor, and his chemistry with Michelle Williams is palpable.  She plays P.T. Barnum's wife, Charity.  He is portrayed as a poor boy from the tough side of town, and she a society girl who went to boarding school and whose parents never approved of him.  But that made their romance even sweeter.

            Zac Efron plays Phillip Carlyle, also born into money, but he says what he found when he joined the circus was joy, and a sense of family.  Not to mention a little romance with the trapeze artist played by Zendaya.  The “freaks” comprising the circus acts, like the bearded lady and the dog man and the midget, all derive a sense of belonging in the troupe, which didn't start traveling in tents until their building burned down.

            The circus always had it critics.  It was shallow gamemanship.  It appealed only to prurient voyeurism.  It hustled and conned, and sold hapless customers on fire-breathers and lion tamers.  But P.T. Barnum didn't mind.  He felt like he was making people happy.

            The bit about promoting the tour of singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) is actually true.  Well, mostly.  The romantic tension may be invented, but it adds some drama to the otherwise “perfect” relationship between Phineas and Charity. 

            Yes, there's a strong theme of inclusiveness here, over against the petty discrimination of the small-minded people around them.  But mostly, it's charming and joyful and energetic and upbeat, and just a pleasure to listen to and watch.  Even if the resident critic is an incurable curmudgeon.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association