The Greatest Showman Cert: PG 1hr 45mins
Awards season is a strange and mysterious time, as the imminent release of The Greatest Showman makes clear. In this country, it is released on Boxing Day, just a week later than in the United States.
And yet it has arrived in cinemas in both territories already garlanded with no fewer than three Golden Globe nominations – Best Musical or Comedy, Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and Best Original Song.
This sort of thing is not unprecedented by any means. It’s not difficult for a distributor to lay on a timely series of special screenings for, in this case the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whip up a bit of positive hullaballoo and suddenly the nominations are flowing.
The all-singing, all-dancing cast perform numbers written by Oscar-winning, Tony-winning, hotter-than-hot songwriting duo duo Pasek and Paul
But when it does happen, it always strikes me as a bit odd that the nominations have arrived before box offices have even opened, critical response been posted and word-of-mouth begun to spread.
I mention all this because when I actually got to see The Greatest Showman I emerged somewhat underwhelmed. Cross Frozen with Moulin Rouge (another musical to blend contemporary songs with a period story) and you’d end up with something definitely better than this.
That’s not to say it’s a disaster. If you’re looking for something undemanding and sort of family-friendly, and you like musicals, this will definitely fill a couple of hours between Christmas and New Year.
Above: Hugh Jackman as PT Barnum , a tailor’s son from Connecticut and Michelle Williams as Charity, his wife and childhood sweetheart
But I can’t see this potted retelling of the life and times of the American circus entrepreneur P T Barnum – the man who some say invented showbusiness and is played here by Hugh Jackman – having much of a shelf life. Especially as the highly successful Broadway musical Barnum has been covering the same ground for almost 40 years.
What might just prove me wrong, however, is that the new film does feature songs by the Oscar-winning, Tony-winning, hotter-than-hot songwriting duo Pasek and Paul. Last year, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for the sublime City Of Stars from La La Land, and their songs are certainly the best things about the new film. This Is Me is the one that is beginning to pick up nominations and certainly, as far as the Golden Globes are concerned, must be the film’s best chance of winning.
But in every other respect The Greatest Showman mildly disappoints, a fact that becomes more understandable once you discover that visual-effects-specialist-turned-director Michael Gracey has never made a film before.
Californian actress Zendaya as a pink-haired trapeze artist and the love interest of Philip Carlyle, played by Zac Efron (above left)
You can see why he might have been chosen – a film that essentially has to recreate both 19th-century New York and the magic of the circus is obviously heavy on visual effects – but the vital underlying story is so slight.
A tailor’s son, Barnum grows up in Connecticut, marries his childhood sweetheart, Charity, gambles everything when he buys Scudder’s American Museum in New York, fills it with ‘freaks’ and curiosities, gets romantically distracted by the beautiful Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind… I could go on but, tellingly, not much.
Jackman, who is 50 next year and a touch too old to convince totally, certainly anchors the show but doesn’t set the world alight as he did in Les Mis.
Above: Rebecca Ferguson plays Jenny Lind, a beautiful Swedish opera singer who catches Barnum’s eye
Elsewhere, Michelle Williams struggles with the underwritten part of Charity, while Rebecca Ferguson fares little better as the attractive but bland Lind.
The only performer to emerge with her reputation enhanced is the young Californian actress Zendaya, as the pink-haired trapeze artist who catches the eye of Barnum’s business partner, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron).
Can love overcome the racial divide in 1850s New York? I’m not telling but look out for the musical trapeze number that, along with a barnstorming opening, is one of the undeniable highlights.
Above: Keala Settle performs as the bearded lady in Barnum’s circus alongside singers, dancers and acrobats
There’s no doubt that the freak-show aspect of the story will be problematic for modern audiences. But this was never going to be the sort of show where unpleasant truths would get in the way of pretty tunes. Shame.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (12A)
Pitch Perfect 3 (12A)
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle gets you chuckling within moments and keeps you chuckling all the way to its effective and unexpectedly poignant ending.
The first Jumanji film, from 1995, which saw Robin Williams’s character being released from a jungle board game, bore only a passing resemblance to American writer Chris van Allsburg’s original 1981 short story. Now the board game has become a video game and this time it’s four teenagers who, Tron-style, get trapped inside the game. To be released, they must complete the game by avoiding such hazards as man-eating hippos and poisonous snakes, restore a stolen jewel and lift the curse on the jungle nation of Jumanji.
The shy, nervous girl becomes Karen Gillan, in tight vest and safari hot pants. Best of all, the pretty, phone-addicted prom queen is reborn as a portly Jack Black (above)
Much of the humour is derived from the role reversals that result as the four teenagers are transformed to the adult characters of the game. So the nerdy game-player who’s never kissed a girl becomes the muscled-up behemoth Dwayne Johnson, the high-school line-backer becomes the diminutive Kevin Hart, and the shy, nervous girl becomes Karen Gillan, in tight vest and safari hot pants. Best of all, the pretty, phone-addicted prom queen is reborn as a portly Jack Black.
All four principals are on top form, and director Jake Kasdan gives former Doctor Who star Gillan the chance to shine in a way she couldn’t in Guardians Of The Galaxy.
The Pitch Perfect franchise has well and truly run out of creative steam. Pitch Perfect 3 is by far the worst in the series. By now the former members of The Barden Bellas are all grown up. When Beca (Anna Kendrick) loses her job and a reunion makes them dewy-eyed with a cappella-flavoured nostalgia, it’s time to hit the road one last time.
Some of the musical numbers are still modest fun, as the girls embark on a short tour of US military bases in Europe. But the plot is paper-thin and too much of the comedy is reliant on the one-note battering ram that is Rebel Wilson.