The Greatest Showman review
Ladies and gentleman! Boys and girls of all ages! Welcome to the circus! This was a statement that I heard at least once a year whenever the circus came to town. I'm not talking about the more artistic acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil, but the three ring shows that come with a tent, clowns, animals, and the rest of the entertainers who have chosen to use that to showcase their talents. As a child, seeing all these elements together was magical. As an adult, I do question their place in today's bigger world of mixed media. How can a circus that comes once a year compete with specific shows, film, Internet, and zoos?
People have to understand that before all of that was created, the circus was often the only place to see the clowns, elephants, and such. True, there was a darker element to the factor on just how far the people behind the scenes would push themselves and others. But if they were good at something, they knew how to entertain. They've built businesses out of it, including those of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily (both now closed). The story of one of the originators, P.T. Barnum, is now showcased in The Greatest Showman.
We learn that as a child, P.T. Barnum grew up with a tailor father, but liked to make others smile…including a young Charity Hallett. Years later, P.T. (played by Hugh Jackman) meets with Charity (played by Michelle Williams), they marry, have two daughters, and try to make something of their lives. Though everyone is content with their lives, P.T. is let go from an accounting job while he dreams of something better for his family. While entertaining his children, he gets an idea to bring the world of the mysterious and unknown to everyone.
He gets a loan and opens Barnum's American Museum, to showcase wax figures, odd exhibits, and anything he can make to invoke a greater wonder within the world. The public is resistant. Lower ticket sales gets P.T. to start hiring live performers including midget "Tom Thumb", a bearded lady, and acrobat Anne (played by Zendaya). This brings in more people, but local critics are unimpressed. The museum (later named a circus) becomes popular enough that P.T. hires a famous playwright Phillip (played by Zac Efron) to try to help run the show and make it appealing for everyone…including the upper class.
The Greatest Showman is trying to do a lot of things. It tries to make P.T. Barnum likable and conflicted, it tries to show the merits of the circus, it tries to make you sympathize with his freak show, and it tries to be historically accurate. Oh, and it's also a musical. Does it all come together? Not all the time, but I can't deny that I enjoyed myself. Seeing this is a lot like a real circus; it's full of talent and has a lot of effort put into it, but what is it leaving behind?
My problem with The Greatest Showman is that we only get glimpses at the real P.T. Barnum. Hugh Jackman does great with the material given to him, but given how the real life figure was a debunker, a salesman, and even a representative of Connecticut, I got more of an edited version. The same goes for Zac Efron, Zendaya, and the others that work in the circus. There's a lot you could have done to show the conflict of exploiting their "specialty" while finding a home. I'm glad we do get the conflict of a man who wants to climb socially, yet isn't sure if his show can come with him.
How is it as a musical? It's probably the best element. I'm sure that the overall intention of this movie was to make it as such. What's interesting is that all the songs and music have more of a modern sound (trying in replicate what Hamilton did on Broadway). It does work in it's favor, though not all the songs are memorable. The one I liked the most was "This is me", which I'm sure will get a lot of song nominations.
I'll give this three and a half circus elephants out of five. The story of the real P.T. Barnum is fascinating, but The Greatest Showman only scratches the surface. I can't say it was for nothing, as the musical sequences are fun and I did care about parts of the story. If you like musicals, you'll get into this. Families are more or less the target, so I might as well say to check it out if you like the circus.