There was a time when musicals were dime a dozen and ‘pure escapism’ to forget all your troubles. This was the golden age of Hollywood when Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rodgers ruled the stage. It was an unforgettable, magical world, a world that immersed you from start to finish. Now let’s fast forward to the present day, with an exception of a few films, the modern day musical is very much an ‘urban legend’. The Greatest Showman sadly continues the myth. In the words from one of its songs “Do fight”, it’s coming at you like an Adam Sandler joke marathon.
Phineas Taylor Barnum was better known as PT Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman in this version). We first meet him as a young boy working with his father at the home of his future wife Charity (Michelle Williams).The pair connected right away, however, Charity’s father (Byron Jennings) did not like the friendship.
Soon after PT’s father dies and he finds himself on the streets struggling. We do see his rise from poverty to the promise he made to Charity, he marries her. Now married with two daughters, he loses job after job, but his determination to prove Charity’s father wrong keeps him going.
Eventually, he gets his breakthrough, when he buys the Museum of oddities. Just as things look like they have hit a brick wall, his daughters tell to get real life ‘freaks’ in. PT finds the bearded lady (Keala Settle), Trapeze Artist (Zendaya), horse riding dwarf (Sam Humphrey), ‘Irish Giant’ (Radu Spinghel). The crowds started to flock, so did the protests.
Is The Greatest Showman is a rollercoaster of determination, empowerment, and following that dream? Was PT Barnum a hero to the oppressed or simply a selfish, greedy peddler? More interested in lining his own pockets with gold, becoming a member of high society, forgetting those who love him…His family.
This film’s greatest assets is it’s music and rewards anyone watching this for the tunes. You would expect nothing less when your score is written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind La La Land. If this was the sequel to their award-winning film, the music suffers from that film sequel fatigue syndrome. Never really matching the level of quality or even succeeding the previous film.
The songs do have their catchy moments, but nothing truly memorable. At times the music feels very monotonous as if they were just one big song rather than a collection of songs. It’s a shame everything gets too generic despite the message of the song been empowerment.
This is Michael Gracey‘s directorial feature debut until now his forte had been tv adverts and music videos.This probably why the music stands out more than the wafer-thin plot.
PT Barnum was a master exploiter, who ruthlessly exploited and manipulated those people whose life was already a living hell or struggle. He was narrowminded only interested in wealth and proving to his snobbish father in law, a boy from the streets can have a rag to riches moment. He was the ideal capitalist who cared only about himself.
The Greatest Showman is not a true biography, its a film based on the stage musical the birth of the show than the person.If they were pushing this as a biography, you should never skim the surface of PT’s story, even if it’s a musical. To call it a ‘biography’ would be an injustice to those people he used for his own financial gain. He had no moral compass in his heart or soul.
Hugh Jackman is the true ‘Greatest Showman’, a true entertainer who ever the years has proven himself worthy of the title.He’s proven there’s life outside of playing Logan and many people find it hard to believe the stage was his world. He plays PT Barnum with great conviction, fearless who slowly becomes obsessive in becoming an accepted member of the High society.
There is a pointless subplot with Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), whom the film teases she had a ‘dangerous liaison’ with PT. It gave us a true glimpse into the real PT Barnum. What was ridiculous for a musical two of your actors singing was dubbed. Rebecca Ferguson singing parts were sung by Loren Allred and Michelle Williams allegedly dubbed too. As for the rest of the cast, they don’t really get enough screentime to judge them as this film is all about ‘the dreamer’ PT Barnum.
Putting aside the ‘selective’ use of PT Barnum’s history, The Greatest Showman is the big screen version of the popular stage musical from London’s West End. This will please those looking for enjoyment just from the music. You will be toe-tapping singing along with the songs, you could put an ape in a tutu, it wouldn’t matter.
Its a shame as the cast deserved better than a film with no depth and honesty. Not one that ‘whitewashes’ Barnum’s true story. Despite Hugh Jackman‘s commanding performance which gives the film some hope, you feel it’s not just the character in the film that has been exploited. It’s the viewers as well. Like a ‘true’ Capitalist, he promises gold at the end of the rainbow but delivers something inferior and completely different.
Paul Devine |
(If your watching just for the music
Drama, Musical | USA, 2017 | 12 | 14th May 2018 (UK Blu-Ray) | 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment | Dir.Michael Gracey | Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya