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The Greatest Showman is a cavalcade of clichés


The Greatest Showman

Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron. Directed by Michael Gracey. Opens Wednesday at GTA theatres. 115 minutes. PG

“Humbug” is usually associated with A Christmas Carol. (It was, after all, Scrooge’s favourite expletive.)

You’ll also hear it uttered a number of times during The Greatest Showman, which is apt since the story, a fictional recounting of the early life of P.T. Barnum, is similarly set in the 19th century.

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It turns out that “humbug,” for which a panoply of synonyms has evolved in modern usage — from hogwash to bull chips — is also a useful word to describe the film, which strikes every false note possible along its meandering path.

Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman.
Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman.  (Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century / TNS)  

It must be said that the movie has the very best of intentions in paying homage to the mostly forgotten figure of Barnum, an entertainment entrepreneur well ahead of his time.

But a reasonably able cast can’t rescue a script stuffed to bursting with clichés, tunes that are insipid rather than inspirational and a story that fails to capture much of the magic in a life as remarkable as P.T. Barnum’s.

So when Queen Victoria, during a meeting with Barnum, bursts into raucous laughter — remember, she’s supposed to have been notoriously “unamused” — forgive yourself for rolling your eyes and sighing heavily.

The story starts with Barnum as a young much-abused assistant to his tailor father who loves Charity, the beautiful daughter of a rich client, a total jerk in the most predictable of ways.

P.T. returns later to sweep her off her feet and away to big-city life where he toils in obscurity until an abrupt firing forces him to seek employment elsewhere.

Hmmm, how about opening a “museum of curiosities” featuring a bearded lady, some conjoined twins and all manner of human oddities? A little song, a little dance and, soon enough, the citizenry who once abhorred “freak shows” is won over.

Or rather, most of them. There’s an inexplicably hardy bunch of malcontents who will doubtless spell trouble down the road . . . yep, we can see where this is heading.

Hugh Jackman can certainly sing and dance, but even his seasoned screen presence isn’t enough to make the narrative even moderately compelling.

The same goes for Michelle Williams as his faithful wife and Zac Efron (fully clothed throughout, so still trying to be taken seriously as an actor) as an unlikely collaborator.

“Everyone is special and nobody is like anyone else,” Barnum pronounces, encapsulating the movie’s theme that everyone should treat everyone the same (as in well) regardless of race, colour, gender or how much hair one might have growing out of one’s face.

A worthy message but such a dreary vehicle in which to deliver it. Humbug.


TORONTO STAR

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