Director Michael Gracey sprinkles age-defying pixie dust all over song-and-dance man Hugh Jackman to produce a modern musical version of the PT Barnum story that transforms the Great American Flimflammer into Saint Circus, patron of the outcast and unwanted (but also profitable). It turns out that rounding up freaks and putting them on a stage for the rubes to gawk at isn’t exploitation, it’s empowerment! (It helps that his freaks here don’t seem all that freakish; the Bearded Lady glows with charisma, and everybody’s fit enough to dance in the numerous Yes We Can anthems.) Maybe PT goes astray along the way, but that’s only because his high-class father-in-law was mean to his dad. Historians now agree that Barnum wasn’t the one who said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re being sold a poptimist bill of goods here. Michelle Williams co-stars as Barnum’s angelic bride and mother to his moppets, while Zac Efron revels in the role of slumming, starstruck lover. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
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