|Directed by||:||Michael Gracey||Produced by||:||Laurence Mark, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping||Story by||:||Jenny Bicks||Starring||:||Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya||Production company||:||Chernin Entertainment, Seed Productions, Laurence Mark Productions, TSG Entertainment||Country||:||United States|
'The Greatest Showman' review: Hugh Jackman dumbs down P.T. Barnum in musical bio
You don’t have to be a sucker to enjoy “The Greatest Showman,” but it doesn’t hurt. Of course, P.T. Barnum didn’t originate that phrase – you know, the one that generalizes the birth rate of the gullible – but he borrowed it from a now-unknown source, and one assumes he’d probably take credit for it anyway.
At least that’s the grinning-opportunist Barnum put forth by this movie, which skims the real-life showman’s biography and crafts a glossy, heavily fictionalized pop-song musical from it. Do not expect deep insight into the man, a true American original and great charismatic figure of the 19th century. He surely deserves the statues built in his honor, and, even more surely, a better movie someday. Do, however, expect an emphasis on quasi-operatic emotional displays over character complexity, a trait inherent to this type of shiny, big-budget artifice.
Hugh Jackman's upbeat lead performance thankfully suppresses any lingering "Les Miserables" flashbacks. He plays Barnum as 80 percent ear-to-ear, gleaming-tooth smile, 15 percent loving family man and five percent huckster, a little less hucky than most. The movie runs lickety-split through his humble early life as a homeless orphan on the streets of New York, tying in a lifelong love story between him and wife-to-be Charity (Michelle Williams) – creative liberties designed to dumb down the psychology of the man, rendering his hopes and dreams and trials and tribulations and joys and successes much easier to encapsulate in song lyrics.