The Greatest Showman

This biopic of P.T. Barnum is pure humbug, but you can't go too wrong with Hugh Jackman in song-and-dance mode.

Rated PG.
Opens Friday at the AMC Van Ness 14, the AMC Dine-In Kabuki, and the AMC Metreon 16.

Liberace was the greatest showman, full stop. But the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus used to call itself the “The Greatest Show on Earth,” so it’s reasonable that Michael Gracey’s musical biopic of would call itself The Greatest Showman. (As far as the movie’s concerned, Bailey as well as both of the Bros. Ringling don’t exist.) The picture follows inveterate dreamer and class-conscious Barnum (Jackman) as he all but invents the business of show, at least where circuses are concerned.

The film embraces its own humbuggery as the real Barnum did, thus it needs to be treated as the big gaudy musical it is, not a factual account. If you don’t think much about narrative logic, or the passage of time — did Barnum’s daughters never age? — or whether his exploitation of “human oddities” was as empowering as the film claims, or the dullness of Zac Efron’s not-Bailey character, or that its narrative climax is essentially the same as The Gong Show Movie, then The Greatest Showman is an entertaining trifle. One warning: The lead vocals are frustratingly low in the mix, and while Gracey’s direction is competent enough to get the point across, if you want to know what the characters are actually singing, ask for a closed-captioning device.

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