In Cinemas Now. Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Keala Settle
Going into the film I already knew the story having not so long ago seen the stage version based on the same man, this version simply named Barnum. This was of course a new adaptation of the life of P.T. Barnum, who founded the concept of the circus and changed entertainment as we know it today. I was reading that the reason it took so long for the film to get green-lit (Hugh Jackman had been working on it for 8 years I believe) was because the studio were sceptical on taking the risk on an original musical, but thankfully they did and the result is simply stunning.
Firstly, the way the film is presented allows us to be completely invested in Barnum’s persona and life as we delve into the emotional core of his dedication to his family. Jackman (P.T. Barnum) and Michelle Williams, who portrays his wife Charity, have a natural chemistry that you feel the loss when things start to go sour. The design for the most part was fantastic, although they were a couple of moments where the CGI felt a tad off, it reminded me a little of Oz the Great and Powerful in a couple of moments, which also starred Williams alongside James Franco. The effects in that film however were much worse and just distracting, whereas here I felt it never effected my overall stance on the film.
The casting choices made are mainly great ones, Zac Efron (Philip Carlyle) gave his all and Zendaya (Anne Wheeler) was also enjoyable to watch. The main highlight however is Kelea Settle (Lettie Lutz), and boy does she represent the Broadway name loud and proud. This woman has such an incredible voice, and her song “This is Me” is rightfully so, the film’s anthem. Rebecca Ferguson (Jenny Lind) was, acting-wise, fantastic, but I don’t see why the studio cast someone who couldn’t sing as well. Loren Allred, who sounds amazing on the one song she is given, provides the character’s singing voice so it isn’t Ferguson singing at all, which seemed pointless, Hollywood needs to start casting proper actor/singers who can do both to an exceptional standard – the source is all over the musical theatre industry guys, come on!
Then we come to my favourite element of the film: the music. Yet again, influential song-writing team Benji Pasek and Justin Paul deliver a stunning, memorable and emotional score. There is literally no stopping these guys now, after La La Land and Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen they are on a winning streak that continues with The Greatest Showman. The film’s defining song is definitely “This is Me”. Led by Settle, this power anthem has already won a Golden Globe, and I’m sure the accolades won’t stop there. Each song in the film was fantastic, other highlights include “The Greatest Show” and “From Now On,” but really, from start to finish, it’s effortless. The only thing I would say is that Jackman does sound better with a dash of auto-tune and yes, this is a negative thing. I think the reason his voice is not always the best, even though I did enjoy it in this film, is because he generally hasn’t maintained that 8-show week schedule he was used to pre-Wolverine and subsequent Hollywood stardom. Even the biggest of Broadway stars will still take voice lessons, not because they need to improve, but to maintain and continue to learn their voice to give their best every 8-show week. I don’t think Jackman’s voice is worked upon that rigorously, but given his career I guess it doesn’t need to be – and who I am kidding, I still love him.
Overall, The Greatest Showman is a daring spectacle with a soundtrack to die for. While it might not be as ambitious as the stage production of Barnum I saw, it does pack the emotional punch which really clenches the deal for me.
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