Hugh Jackman sings his way through “The Greatest Showman”

Embargoing a film up until the day of release is never a sign of confidence on the part of a studio. Usually, this sort of treatment is reserved for low class genre fare, not would be Oscar contenders. Yet, here we are in the case of The Greatest Showman. It opens today and reviews were embargoed until just after midnight. 20th Century Fox has essentially been hiding it, hoping Hugh Jackman’s star power, the idea of a musical, and the three Golden Globe nominations (more on those in a bit) would drive traffic. They don’t have it on their For Your Consideration page, preferring instead to hitch their wagon to Jackman’s other outing Logan, among other things. A wise move for Fox, as this is one of the worst movies of the year.

The film is a musical biopic, looking at how Phineas Taylor Barnum, or P.T. Barnum (Jackman), essentially started the world of show business. Growing up poor, he won the heart of Charity (Michelle Williams), but always felt the need to show her wealthy parents that he wasn’t trash. Even as an adult, when they have two young girls, he’s always looking to go bigger. Initially, it’s a museum of wax figures, but then, when he decides to feature what are essentially freaks, his star rises. Teaming up with a host of characters, as well as a producer in Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), the show becomes a literal circus, as coined by nonplussed theater critic James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks). The rest is history. Obviously, through it all, there is singing and dancing, with the lyrics put forward by the La La Land team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (their work there was much better). Michael Gracey directs a script by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, with supporting players here including Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Damian Young, and many more. John Debney contributes the score, while Seamus McGarvey handles the cinematography.

Very little here works. The movie is safe and bland, with atrocious direction and horrible choreography. The actors all sing and dance towards the camera in television commercial way, as opposed to us following them as they expand the screen. Williams is wasted, while Jackman does with he can. Every character, from theirs to Efron’s, Ferguson’s, and Zendaya’s, have no dimension to them. Without characterization, how can we care? With ugly CGI and sets that feel cheap, this just never feels one bit cinematic. The songs are decent enough, with This Is Me sufficiently catchy, but that hardly saves the day.

Once upon a time, The Greatest Showman seemed like a surefire Academy Award player. Now, it’s Best Original Song or bust. The Globes did their embarrassing thing and cited it merely for being a musical. The Best Song nomination isn’t worth making a fuss about, but in any logical world, Best Musical/Comedy and Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy for Jackman shouldn’t have happened. They won’t translate to Oscar though, that’s for sure. If the flick has any hopes of not being one and done in Original Song, it’ll be with slipping into Best Sound Editing and/or Best Sound Mixing. More likely though is that singular citation, where in fairness, it has an outside chance of winning.

On a positive note, here is how I would rank Jackman’s ten best performances to date:

10. X-Men
9. Kate & Leopold
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past
7. Butter
6. X2: X-Men United
5. Les Miserables
4. The Prestige
3. Prisoners
2. The Fountain
1. Logan

Starting today, musical fans can give The Greatest Showman a try, though I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re a diehard Jackman fan, notably for his singing and dancing, he might satisfy you, but this manages to make Les Miserables look good, and that’s saying something. He sings his way through it with gusto, but it’s all for naught. Don’t waste your time with this one, especially as there are tons of better options out there right now. Want to see an ode to show business? Look no further than The Disaster Artist, which actually would have been an apt title for this movie…

The Greatest Showman is in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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