The Greatest Showman review
Imagine Tod Browning’s 1932 pre-Code horror film Freaks asset-stripped by a third-rate Baz Luhrmann wannabe, the chilling refrain “one of us” sanitised into something closer to a soft-drink commercial tagline than a menace. Imagine a musical that, like its score, is all air-punching chorus and no verse; a featherlight film in which what meagre narrative there is unfolds in endless, oily musical montages. Imagine a film that replaces an emotional climax with a scene in which the main character rides an enormous CGI elephant covered in glitter. In fact, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conjure up a film such as The Greatest Showman, which is an uninspired plod through the life of PT Barnum (Hugh Jackman). For all the skittish, pirouetting camera and sparkles, the characterisation is barely Lycra-deep and the magic that Barnum brought to his shows is lacking.
It is not entirely without redeeming features. An aerial song-and-dance sequence between slumming toff Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) and trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) is a giddy joy. And Hugh Jackman is clearly having an absolute ball in the role. Still, it is hard to forgive a film that casts Michelle Williams in a key role but doesn’t give her the opportunity to do any actual acting.