Cirque Du So-So

This musical has its moments, but it’s no three‑ring wonder

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Greatest Showman
Now playing

After a 17-year stint as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman could have gone the way of Liam Neeson (B-grade thrillers with a lot of body-doubles). But it’s clear the Australian actor’s heart lies on stage. A musical guy by trade, Jackman already showed his chops in Les Miserables. His second venture in the genre is an original musical by the La La Land composers, and it’s… fine.

Jackman is an idealized version of P.T. Barnum, who created the concept of the travelling big-top circus. A moderately successful Connecticut businessman, who also dabbled in state and municipal politics, Barnum suffered a series of financial reversals in the 1850s which left him frustrated at his inability to give his wife (Michelle Williams) the lifestyle she had before marrying him.

At wit’s end, Barnum comes up with an idea for a freak show. The spectacle is frowned upon in polite society, but is otherwise a smashing success. But the entrepreneur isn’t satisfied, and his reckless pursuit of money and fame end up endangering his most precious accomplishment: his family (hey, it’s a Christmas movie, what do you expect?).

The plot of The Greatest Showman is almost perfunctory (hero rises, strays, redeems himself), although Barnum’s pathos is mildly interesting. Then again, a musical succeeds or fails on the strength of the tunes and the movie has at least two memorable ones: the opening number “The Greatest Show”, and the freaks’ anthem “This Is Me”. But the ballad “Never Enough” is strictly run-of-the-mill.

Much like the soundtrack, the cast is a mixed bag. Musicals are Jackman and co-star Zac Efron’s jam, and Rebecca Ferguson, as Swedish singer Jenny Lind, holds her own. Also impressive, Broadway vet Keala Settle as the bearded lady. Michelle Williams, though, is miscast, while Zendaya, as a trapeze artist, looks annoyed the entire time. For genre fans only.