Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Greatest Showman - a crazy fantasy bio-musical that works best when you close your eyes

The ambition is obvious. The crafting of pretty good tunes and lyrics is obvious. The appeal of loosely telling the early parts of PT Barnum's life story through music and dance is obvious. Unfortunately the mismatched lipsyncing in The Greatest Showman is all too obvious and distracting (and Young Barnum's first verse in A Million Dreams ("I close my eyes and I can see") sounds auto-tuned).

PT Barnum applies for a bank loan using fraudulent security and titillates New York audiences with his collection of crazy stuffed animals and alternative performers who are not all quite as unusual as Barnum's hyped-up billing suggests. Some great performances from Keala Settle, Zendaya (who does her own trapeze work) and Zac Efron.

The Greatest Showman is a crazy fantasy biography musical. Perhaps appropriately, I found it to be a bit of a con. It's like a fine set of music videos strung together, interrupted only by dull dialogue that appears to be seeded with lots of pithy Barnum sayings. Combined with the overly-visual emotion-signalling throughout the film, it's as if the director felt that the acting, the score and the lyrics couldn't carry the story.

Wrapped around the story is are threads looking at acceptance, racism, truth and family fortunes. Yet none of them are very believable, and the production collapses, much like many of Barnum's plans. If only the whole film had been as good as its final scene which finally worked magic in the cinema. A good hour and half too late.

The film's soundtrack makes heavy use of Dolby surround sound technologies and perhaps the effect is less obvious in other seats, but from my vantage point the often-soft singing voices appeared to sit above the action, as if coming from the height of the trapeze artist at the top of the screen rather than the mouths nearer the bottom.

Hugh Jackman is perfect as fast-talking adult PT Barnum, full of charm yet with an edge of vulnerability. His honest conversations with the theatre critic are revealing and a poignant inclusion in this stinker of a film.

Michelle Williams plays Charity Barnum, a robust dreamer who loves her husband's imagination and ambition, but is worn down by his selfishness. Blink and you could be watching the character of Jen Lindley from Dawson's Creek all over again! In fact, a permanent blink is probably the best way to enjoy this film.

Sit in the middle of the cinema, close your eyes, and enjoy the music, particularly the anthem of the underdog This Is Me ("I am not a stranger to the dark").

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