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Review: The Greatest Showman

Score: B-

Director: Michael Gracey

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rated: PG

Many biopics often do one of two things: they either exaggerate their subject's flaws or soften their edges, rarely giving a truly accurate portrayal. The Greatest Showman probably goes farther in the latter direction than any movie I've ever seen. P.T. Barnum is transformed from a cynical businessman to a woke entertainer, champion of the downtrodden and protector of animals. He's almost Jesus in a top hat and tails. Sure, maybe he's a little vain and occasionally puts his work before his family, but this version of Barnum (as played by Hugh Jackman) is about as noble as they come.

After getting laid off from his job, Barnum invests his family's savings in purchasing a museum of oddities from around the world. But when business doesn't boom, he turns to the freaks of society for a new showcase. Again, in this (heavily fictionalized) version, they're not treated as a sideshow but as the beloved cast of an important production.

This is ridiculous, but the movie makes up for it with a lot of catchy numbers. They're written by the duo who came up with the lyrics for the songs in La La Land, but there's nothing quite that good here. Still, they're fun enough that they're likely to worm their way into your brain. (I've had "This Is Me" stuck in my head all week.)

The performances are good, but never exceptional. The direction is fine, but never truly special. I kept wondering how spectacular this could have been with someone like Baz Luhrmann at the helm. But the movie never gets weighed down, even as one subplot in particular appears tacked on.

I'm talking about the romance between its hot young stars Zac Efron and Zendaya. Both have been charming separately, but here they have absolutely zero chemistry. Their romance just isn't believable, and certainly would not have been possible in late 1800s New York. I lost count of how many times Efron – and other characters – said some variation on "I don't care what they think." It's a nice sentiment, but it gets hammered home in nearly every scene.

Yet the movie is so nice, so cheerful, its characters so indefatigable that it's impossible to hate. The Greatest Showman certainly isn't the best gift at the movies this Christmas, but you'll enjoy it all the same.

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About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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