“Ladies and Gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for…”
Again, apologies for the delay. With school starting up again I’ve fallen a little behind on my reviews, but I hope this is enlightening nonetheless. This will be a spoiler-free review of The Greatest Showman.
The Greatest Showman is a musical film that tells the story of P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman, Ellis Rubin as young Barnum), a boy born in poor, working-class conditions in the early 1800s. After growing up and marrying his childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams), Barnum is still shackled by his financial situation, a matter made worse when the company he works for files bankrupt. Something of a dreamer, he takes it upon himself to start a new business endeavour, opening an “American Museum” to display unusual and bizarre exhibits. The museum does not take off, and at the urging of his daughters, Barnum looks for ways to make his museum come to life. He eventually realizes that a “freak show” might draw more crowds, so he approaches several individuals that would be seen as freaks. Among them are the dwarf Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), a bearded lady named Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), and two black siblings and trapeze artists Anne and W. D. Wheeler (Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Finally, Barnum also approaches Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), a skilled performer, to help run the show.
The majority of the film revolves around Barnum and his performers, eventually dubbed a “circus” – a name that Barnum likes and encourages. Public opinion of the show is widely split: though the show is popular and successful, there are still many loud voices shouting to shut down the freak show: their kind aren’t wanted here. That is the driving force for tension and drama throughout the film. Each character reacts to the pressure in different ways, causing frustration within the group and tensions that mount until feelings and egos are all but shattered.
The second song made me cry, and once I started it was hard to stop. Every single song is absolutely incredible; so often, there will be that one song that you skip over in the playlist, but that is not the case with The Greatest Showman. Each and every song is beautifully written, capturing pure emotion.
It goes without saying, but the story that this film tells is a powerful one. Barnum sees past physical oddities and sees people for who they really are and who they could be; he inspires them with a vision of something great. This, when augmented with the strength of the musical score, delivers a powerful message.
All of the characters in the film make sense and are quite believable. Barnum and Carlyle both struggle with being associated with the “freaks” and try on multiple occasions to distinguish themselves from their performers, actions that understandably cause tense relations within the group. For a time, Barnum also gets swept up in his own success. This is understandable for one who rose from virtually nothing, but again, his actions nearly cause him to lose everything that he worked for. All of the characters act and react to one another in believable ways.
The film is sprinkled with exchanges of powerful dialogue, particularly between Barnum and the entertainment critic Mr. O’Malley (Eric Anderson). Each dialogue between these two men brings up interesting points concerning the interplay between popular and critical opinion as well as what should and should not be considered art. These exchanges, while relevant to the story, also cleverly suggest that critics not be too harsh on the film itself.
Conflict Resolved Easily
If there is one weakness in The Greatest Showman, it is that the conflict between various characters is resolved too easily. Almost every conflict in the movie is resolved, in my opinion, without sufficient discussion of the problem. Reconciliation happens without true acknowledgement of the problem at hand, and this does weaken the film to some degree.
Holistically, I rate The Greatest Showman 9.5/10. Full to the brim with raw emotion and peppered with thought-provoking bits of dialogue, the film doesn’t quite make 10/1o only because the conflict is resolved a bit too quickly and easily. In the world of the 1850s, popular opinion states that there is no place for someone shy of three feet tall, or a woman with a beard, or for black people to be on stage, for that matter. Barnum’s group boldly proclaims otherwise, rising against all odds to put on the greatest show.