Mario’s Movies: The Greatest Showman Reaches For Greatness; Nearly Grasps It

By Mario Ricciardi

For an actor whose career has spanned 17 years of playing one of Marvel’s angriest superheroes, Hugh Jackman sure knows how to switch gears. I suppose that’s part of the job description when you’re an actor, but Jackman does so with poise – a certain poise that sets him apart from many of Hollywood’s other leading men.

One minute he’s stabbing through hearts with claws, the next he’s moving them with songs from Les Mis. Not to mention that he can act too (Prisoners anyone?). He’s a regular triple threat (even though there’s nothing regular about that) and the box office knows it. His latest star vehicle is the musical/P.T. Barnum biography, “The Greatest Showman.”

“The Greatest Showman” tells the story of P.T. Barnum, the eccentric dreamer behind the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Although Barnum has a legacy that to this day isn’t the most ethically outstanding, Showman glosses over all that to tell a blissful story about holding on to your dreams.

As Jackman’s portrayal of Barnum grows from boy to man, he manages to get the girl, raise a beautiful family and invent a business that allows society’s undesirables to shine. It’s an optimistic story void of drama until a race-fueled romantic subplot and Barnum’s personal deviation from his original intent for the circus comes to fruition.

The additional subplots are crucial to the structure of the film, not to mention keep the audience engaged. Unfortunately, director Michael Gracey fails to flush them out. It has just enough drama to keep the attention of the audience, but not gain their concern. Hence, the story portion of the musical doesn’t do as much as it could. Luckily, in turn, the key component to every musical is … the music.

“The Greatest Showman” flaunts a soundtrack that does an outstanding job combining show tunes with pop power ballads. The opening song “The Greatest Show” starts us on a ride that takes us through performances by Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya and Loren Allred – all formidable singers who outshine the film’s narrative simply by singing and dancing their hearts out to a beautiful whirlwind of camerawork.

From the start to finish, the music of “The Greatest Showman” is its own element that leaves you in high anticipation for each following number. It’s hard not to be swept away by this tale of dreamers risking it all for a world that does not want to accept them. Showman has a unique optimism and persistence that does not alienate. It is made for all backgrounds and interests. Despite its occasional shortcomings, it manages to speak to the hearts of its audience. It is a feel-good movie that is worth feeling good about. “The Greatest Showman” is not a Christmas movie, but it carries the same romanticism and light-heartedness Christmas movies are so beloved for. It shines as a whirlwind of color and positive messages regarding our social climate.

Unfortunately, it misses the mark on providing anything truly substantial. I encourage you all to see it, but I would not insist upon it. Now, going to Spotify to listen to the soundtrack … that’s a different story.

??? (3/5 Penguins)