“Don’t quit your daydream.”
That’s what’s printed in large, friendly letters on the front of my reviews journal, and—probably—what would’ve been P.T. Barnum’s life motto, if he had one. The Greatest Showman is a celebration of life, all walks, and what makes show business so magical.
Even from the outset—a little pre-show greeting from Hugh Jackman and director Michael Gracey, thanking the audience for coming out and supporting the cinematic arts at the theatre—I could tell this would be a wholly-different experience from what I’ve been used to, even from the lighter fare we get through my Regal. I’ve a growing fondness for the musical genre, as a way to tell fantastic stories with song that other directors fail to with simple dialogue. Here is a film that not only manages to astound, visually, but weaves a story of love, loss, and sacrifice in attaining one’s dream.
The Greatest Showman showcases what it means to be alive, to stand up against adversity. The theatre I was party to was packed, and the movie theatre atmosphere was perfect to get that crowd experience. Though probably heavily-fictionalized (I’ll have to check my sources to see how much of this “origin story” is true), the core message speaks to human uniqueness, and that—even through great strife—we can become more than what we are. Barnum’s early life and trying to break into his career—based solely on what the movie presents—was not without hardship, but his perseverance saw his dream to fruition.
Hugh Jackman plays Barnum expertly. A veteran of the stage (yes, Wolverine can sing and has been, longer than most reading this have been alive), Jackman fell perfectly into the musical role of Barnum. He’s charismatic, very physical in his portrayal, and quite a bit of the numbers are his.
The cast is diverse—as was Barnum’s original sideshow and one-ring performers: Tom Thumb, the bearded lady, the dog boy, the giant man, one covered in tattoos, Siamese twins, trapeze performers, et cetera. The time-period lends to interesting talking points about racial injustice, how other people viewed these “freaks”, and what success and family meant to a bunch of social outcasts. There were a few times I got really worked up and couldn’t help but shed a tear, but all of it was well-deserved. I felt the relationship hinted at between Zac Efron and Zendaya’s characters in the trailers would feel forced—a cheap way to squeeze emotion from the audience—but it turned out to be one of the realest parts of the film.
Musical numbers are extravagant, and a lot of CGI is employed, as well as practical effects and stunt-work. A lot of the main cast—Efron, Zendaya, Michelle Williams, Keala Settle—get equal song-time, so we get a good feel for each of their stories.
The soundtrack… I’ve never more thoroughly enjoyed a set-list for a film. Over half of it, I now have on my personal playlist, and hearing each one for the first time in the film—as well as their ensemble reprises—gave me chills. Well-choreographed, and showing off the talent of all the crew involved behind-the-scenes.
Filmmaking at its finest, The Greatest Showman earns its *****/ ‘Risk Assessment.
As P.T. Barnum so eloquently put it—and as the closing cut of the film quotes—“The noblest art is that of making people happy.” This film definitely did that, for me.
Next review: The Post (Jan. 12th)