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That's Entertainment

Saturday, December 30, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

The Greatest Showman
Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron,  Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya and others
Rating: * * *

Michael Gracey, maker of music videos and commercials, attempts a big screen musical, The Greatest Showman with a good deal of pizzazz, but much too influenced by Baz Luhrmann and Bob Fosse.

The life of circus showman P.T Barnum (Hugh Jackman—yes, he sings!) starts in poverty, but he still grabs the heart of rich girl Charity (Michelle Williams), who leaves the mansion of her snooty parents to marry to an impoverished shipping clerk.

When he loses his job, he fakes collateral to get a large bank loan and start a museum. It looks like it’s going to flop, till his daughters suggest that it needs something living. That sets him off in search of human oddities, like a bearded lady, a dwarf, a very fat and a very tall man. A scathing newspaper review gives Barnum the idea of changing museum to circus and he has a hit on his hands, that accords him a life of wealth and a mansion in the same street as the in-laws who rejected him.

Barnum has brains to create and market his show, guts to defy the protestors who gather outside his circus, and the glibness that has him ensnare the aristocratic New York theatrical producer Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who takes him all the way to Buckingham Palace. Acceptance in high society comes though opera singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), who is also the reason his downfall.

Because of the song-and-dance numbers, the plot remains half-baked, and the music set pieces are exuberant, but also too generic to be really impressive, and no song (composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul )is really top-of-the-charts catchy.

The film makes Barnum look not like a hustler or exploiter of ‘freaks’ but a do-gooder who gives them a home and a sense of purpose. Still, except for the bearded woman (Keala Settle), none of the others get enough screen time, and just prance around in the background like participants in a fancy dress party. Attention is diverted from Barnum to the inter-racial romance between Carlyle and the coloured trapeze artiste Ann (Zendaya), which is rather lacking in spark, but generates an aerial number, Rewrite The Stars.

 It’s only Hugh Jackman’s dazzling performance that makes The Greatest Showman worth a watch. What the film says though is valid for all times—show business is about entertaining people and taking them into a fantasy world where anything is possible.

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