The Greatest Showman (8 out of 10)
“No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”
I’ve always had a strong love and affinity toward music. I took singing and guitar lessons for a short time, and at one time I (very briefly) went to a college in Nashville, Tennessee to pursue a career in the music business. While nothing has ever really materialized in my brief musical endeavors (relegated to singing loudly in my car nowadays), my love for music has remained. Give me music with a great melody, regardless of almost any genre, and you’ve got me: hook, line, and sinker. That also goes for music within films. Whether it’s individual songs on the soundtrack or the film composer’s score, if a film has music I really connect with, I’m much more likely to enjoy the film (notwithstanding good acting, story, etc.). Despite all of that, for longest time, I had never considered myself much of a fan of film musicals. Maybe it had a bit to do with not seeing a lot of great musicals, or seeing mostly old black-and-white ones with good but archaic songs that I just didn’t connect with. It wasn’t until I saw “Moulin Rouge” back in 2001 that I realized I really could love and enjoy a musical film. While the first 15 or so minutes of that film were a bit jarring, once the first duet with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman began, I fell head over heels for the film. Since then, I’ve been far more open to seeing musicals and embracing them as a genre of film I can thoroughly enjoy.
When I heard there was a new musical called “The Greatest Showman” coming out toward the end of 2017, starring Hugh Jackman, I was very excited to see it. Not only because I’m a big Hugh Jackman fan (who also happens to be an accomplished singer, showman, and stage actor himself), but also because some of the same people who worked on it also worked on the excellent musical “La La Land” that came out just a year previously. Well, I’m happy to say that “The Greatest Showman” is another excellent entry into the musical genre. Featuring fantastic song-and-dance numbers, with beautiful choreography, a solid story with great acting, and an inspiring message about not being ashamed for being different than others, but using that difference in a positive way to bring joy to people, The Great Showman should garner some nominations and maybe a few victories during the movie award season. Hugh Jackman is great playing P.T. Barnum, the originator of the long running (but now recently defunct) “Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.” This is the kind of film Hugh is clearly comfortable being the lead in, and it shows. It doesn’t hurt that the rest of the supporting cast around him is excellent as well, especially Zac Efron as Barnum’s reluctant business partner, Phillip Carlyle. Efron, a veteran of the High School Musical films, shows he’s still very in touch with his song and dance background. He also has a huge part in my favorite scene in the film, a duet midway through with Zendaya’s trapeze artist character, Anne Wheeler. The song, the choreography, pretty much every part of the scene is executed brilliantly. There really isn’t much not to like about the film. The only minor complaint I had is, if you go in expecting a very in-depth biographical film about P.T. Barnum, this is certainly not it. The film is a very surface-level, sensationalized look at Barnum. To be fair, I don’t believe the filmmakers intended to make a film like that anyway, and instead wanted to capture the essence and feel of what Barnum tried to accomplish through his circus and theatrical endeavors. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for more details on the life of P.T. Barnum, I’m sure there are far more detailed accounts in books than what you will see in this film.
But, if you go into the film expecting a fun, inspiring, well-acted, well-choreographed musical with terrific song and dance numbers, you can’t do much better than “The Greatest Showman.” While it is a very surface-level look into the life of P.T. Barnum and how he began his long-running circus show, it does capture much of what Barnum was looking to accomplish with his shows: bringing awe, wonder, joy, and happiness to millions of people around the world. As Barnum himself once said, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” I give “The Greatest Showman” and 8 out of 10.
- Ryan Zeid