The Greatest Showman: an original musical loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum and his “abnormals assemble” crew. You have two choices with this film: enjoy it as a (very) lightweight piece of entertainment, or thumb through the catalogue of issues with its presentation as an actual ‘movie’. My biggest gripe is the songs – they’re all too similar and formulaic; designed by committee – starting with a quiet talky bit, rapidly build into a punch-the-air, feelgood and uplifting sing-a-long major-key chorus, then ending with a more emotional talky bit. Granted, they’re perfect for a musical, but each one is about twice as long as necessary and the core numbers are continually repeated throughout the entire picture. While it makes the most of the cinematic medium through scale and visual effects, it’s unbelievably stagey and theatrical; essentially begging for a live action theatre run. The story is wafer thin; it is the most positive spin on Barnum’s life told through very broad brushstrokes, and whenever someone is about to do a bit of real acting (starting to get vaguely emotional) they spontaneously burst in to song! The critic character is a laughably knowing pre-emptive jibe at how the film itself would obviously land; engineered to be popular with the masses but sneered at by critics – and I can understand both sides. Every family member, friend, and colleague that’s seen this has gone to the cinema for multiple viewings and subsequent sing-a-long viewings, yet the critical response is lukewarm at best. The Greatest Showman is hammier than a hog roast and cheesier than a fondue: it’s unashamedly naff, but is clearly plugging a massive gap in the popular and musical markets.
Blue Valentine: full-circle relationship drama focusing on a young all-American couple. This one’s independent to the core: indie Soundtrack, lo-fi visuals, handheld camcorder / shaky vibe – R-Gos even busts out a ukulele for a serenade at one point, in a scene that’s sweet enough to give you diabetes, or cringe-worthily comparable to dental work – depending on your stance. If there ever was a film aimed specifically at Noah and the Whale / Modest Mouse fans… this is it. The story itself is uncompromisingly banal, refusing to go anywhere, and with the indie style, it feels more like a fly-on-the-wall than drama in parts. Chronologically shuffled, it bounds between timeframes, making the mood warm and fuzzy, then ice cold, then fuzzy again… Despite a dull, mumbly script Gosling and Williams are the only aspects that kept me watching; they clock in some serious dramatic mileage through the convincing everyman/everywoman relationship scenarios. Overall, this is a tough one to rate: Blue Valentine wants to be rooted in the real world, yet it’s cast two beautiful Hollywood stars; it wants to be crushingly realistic yet has a rose-tinted cinematic romanticism outlook. Rarely does a film hang so heavily, or rely so much on two people, and in this case, two solid performances couldn’t make this special.
My Week With Marilyn: on his very first feature film a rookie third assistant director ends up spending a remarkable week with the world’s biggest star, Marilyn Monroe. There’s an interesting story parabola: it starts and finishes on an uplifting soft-comedy notes but has a major tone dip in the middle as it delves in to Marilyn’s off-screen life. For someone who doesn’t know much about her, it was a bit of an eye-opener – sheeeeeet, I didn’t even know she married Arthur Miller, let alone the rest. Branagh is a blast as a bombastic Laurence and Williams shines as Mrs Monroe; however the lead (Redmayne) is a bit flat and ‘Forrest Gumpy’ – and seems a strange choice given the other, high profile, names involved. The period setting is fantastic, every detail is there. Overall, this is a whimsical, dreamy, slightly hammy, rose-tinted and soft-focused TV biopic; but between Branagh, Williams and the time-setting it’s entertaining and interesting enough to hold your attention.