It may seem odd now, but in the golden age of Hollywood musical biopics were pretty common. Movies like Yankee Doodle Dandy used the thin veneer of fact used to justify a lot of great singing and dancing while recounting the lives of famous people, sort of. That’s never entirely gone away; any biopic of a musician is essentially a musical where people breaking out in song makes logical sense. But it’s rare to see one on the big screen, at least from Hollywood, these days. And that’s where The Greatest Showman, anchored by Hugh Jackman as P. T. Barnum, comes in.
Much like in the golden age, this movie rather flagrantly, ah, elides some of Barnum’s rough spots, which is something of a shame. Nobody’s going to talk about Joice Heth in this movie, or that Barnum made a fortune from running the lottery, or his long, storied, and sometimes bizarre political career. Or that time he stole a fake giant. Barnum had a pretty weird life, that would make a pretty great movie. But this is all about the circus, how it was founded, and, pretty clearly, most interested in the “let’s put on a show” style of old school movie musical.
More importantly, it’s all about Hugh Jackman. Jackman is best known for being angry and having knife hands, but away from the screen, he’s a song-and-dance man at heart, and he’s never really gotten the full-bore, unfiltered musical that song-and-dance men in Hollywood all yearn for. We’ll see him bust a Gilded Age move this Christmas.