Hugh Jackman flexes his Broadway muscles as 19th-century circus impresario P. T. Barnum in this new musical executive-produced by Logan director James Mangold. And although Logan features throats ripped out by claws, it’s this film that made me feel sick.
I always thought P. T. stood for prick-tease, which in this case is half-right. Despite Barnum’s name being synonymous with fraudulence and exploitation, the painfully obvious and oblivious script is full of adulation for the greatest snake oil salesperson since Gwyneth Paltrow. “You brought joy into my life,” simpers Zac Efron, as though popularising the freak show made Barnum some great champion of diversity rather than the Donald Trump of his day.
While the dialogue puts the dumb in Dumbo, the musical numbers appear to have been written by people without ears. The producers obviously watched a couple of Baz Luhrmann pictures and decided that putting modern-sounding music into a classical setting is awfully clever, not realising that a) it isn’t and b) the last time these songs sounded modern was when Ricky Martin was still in the charts. It’s difficult to describe the ear-grating horror of these tunes but if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to hear foxes having sex, you might consider using this soundtrack to scare them away next time. Providing you have no qualms about animal cruelty.
To its credit The Greatest Showman features some outstanding choreography, much more elaborate than anything in La La Land. But with no authenticity or feeling behind it, the overall effect is Blah Blah Bland. By the end Paul Sparks’ “joyless critic” is won round by Barnum’s circus, calling it “a celebration of humanity.” The movie is certainly a celebration, but only of an attractive, blue-eyed American family getting incredibly rich from the work of circus freaks whom Barnum enlists by saying: “They’re laughing at you anyway, might as well get paid for it.” Call me a joyless critic, but this film left me so cold they should call it The Greatest Snowman.