Director:           Michael Gracey

Stars:              Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron

Running time: 105 mins

Ratings:           IMDB                      7.7      (IMDB score is weighted average of audience scores out of 10)

             Rotten Tomatoes    56%    (Rotten Tomatoes score is % of professional critic reviews that are

                                                                     positive)

Awards:          

 

 Movie Trailer:

 

 

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 Reviews:

Take a bona fide Broadway star, put them in a stodgy ahistorical musical, with a credible co-star gamely slumming it in a secondary role, and what do you get? The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, or indeed The Greatest Showman, whose stealth success at the box office since it opened five weeks ago has quietly become the biggest film story of the new year.

The Greatest Showman’s success is not just surprising: it’s bordering on miraculous. The film’s audience has grown week on week, after inauspicious beginnings, to an extent not seen since Titanic or Chicago. This goes against all received wisdom, and runs blithely counter to all current box-office trends. The movie is an original, unfranchisable story with little or no built-in audience, no superheroes, and is a gosh-darn-it musical. Why this not-especially-good film? Why now?

First of all, the way The Greatest Showman has built its audience, gradually, shows that word of mouth has played a key role. What’s interesting, and sort of charming, is that it is likely that Showman is drawing in not only new audiences curious to see what all the fuss is about, but repeat viewers who don’t care about the film’s formal problems and who are – presumably – turning up for the hits and the kitsch factor. The film has both in spades: Never Enough, This Is Me or Rewrite the Stars would all win the Eurovision Song Contest, and the film’s turgid story of self-actualisation dips into schmaltz just about every other minute. That tone is crucial – the film offers entertainment, but in an easygoing, Dirty Dancing kind of way. It’s never too sassy, smart, or even particularly camp, making its pleasures relatable and comforting.

It isn’t hard to see how the film’s feelgood factor can give audiences a much-needed sense of escape or respite. You could plausibly go further and suggest that the way the film reinvents PT Barnum – by all accounts a nasty, racist piece of work who exploited his workers without any qualms – as a beaming champion of minorities and misfits, might chime with viewers who wish to see good in men, and find precious little of it around in today’s #MeToo landscape. The Greatest Showman offers a hagiographic narrative of financial success, individual self-assertion and togetherness, merrily papering over such small difficulties as patriarchal oppression and systemic structural inequality.

Also, while Showman is often ropy in its execution, little of its making has been left down to chance. Its main cast ranges in age from 22 to 49, drawing on Instagram royalty (Zendaya) and old-school stardom (Jackman). There’s eye candy for people of all persuasions, and there’s a winking coming-out duet between Jackman and Efron to court the crucial pink dollar. The film is an old-time musical built on classical lines, but it also pays lip service in its music to current trends. Its slick power-pop soundtrack has found its way to the top of the charts in the US.

Perhaps the film’s success shouldn’t be surprising. Like The Sound of Music and Funny Girl, it’s built on a tried and tested formula that, admittedly, hadn’t been used in a while, but reliably hit payola for studios for years and years. Even, more recently, the successes of Frozen, Empire and Hamilton show that there’s a potentially huge audience for musicals, which was going untapped in cinema. The film is testament, in almost every aspect, to old-fashioned values working well, right down to Jackman’s star power in getting the project off the ground and giving it his promotional firepower. It’s a crafty piece of meshing of his image with the film’s brand that fully pays off.

Finally, the film – though hokey and trite at its core – offers a genuine rush of spectacle and wonder, which still counts for something on a big screen, perhaps more so in an era of standardised CGI. Where audiences used to marvel at Fred and Ginger hotfooting it on a shiny dancefloor, we get to watch Zendaya whoosh around a circus on a trapeze. To quote the film, “it’s fire, it’s freedom, it’s flooding open”.

CASPAR SALMON
GUARDIAN