During one of my weekly visits to my local theater, I came across a trailer for a colorful, flashy musical based on a highly fictionalized take on P.T. Barnum’s life and how he brought together the world’s first circus starring High Jackman; called “The Greatest Showman.” I was intrigued by the film but I was even more intrigued by the fact that there were barely ANY advertisements or commercials for the film. Imagine my surprise to learn critics had dropped a collective flaming bag of crap on this movie and slammed it with so much bad press, barely anyone even knew the movie was coming out or were even aware it existed at all.
Despite the obvious contradiction of this statement (me writing a review like a movie critic), I’ve always disliked movie critics with a great intensity. I often find the movies they loathe I end up loving and vice versa. So despite the backlash, I went into this movie with an open mind and a cleansed pallet from all the negativity. “Greatest Showman” is an original musical take on the imagination of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman), a man who came from nothing that wished to give his wife (Michelle Williams), his family and the world everything and more. He establishes the world’s first circus and stirs a great deal of controversy, financial debt and danger. It’s a story about a man with the greatest dream to deliver the greatest show to one and all.
I’ve told my friend many times how much I cannot stand Hollywood fluff pieces that claim to be inspired/based on true events. They always fabricate and exempt crucial real life elements to a person’s life when they do these films. “Greatest Showman” never claimed to be based on truth; it’s a fantastical, colorful story that tells a story excellently and vivaciously through one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve heard in years. The minute I left the theater I was singing every song in my head and once I got home, I listened to the soundtrack through youtube videos 3 or 4 times. Whatever ignorant, baseless hatred critics have been lobbing at this film are excruciatingly unjustified. I couldn’t get enough of these songs I loved them so much.
Now I do admit the film breezes through rather briskly through a great deal of crucial events in Barnum’s life. Everything from childhood, parent’s death and more get brushed through rather quickly. But aside from that, there wasn’t much that happened in this film or in its stellar scores that I didn’t love. This has been a passion project for Hugh Jackman for years and it clearly shows in his performance. His singing and choreography are flawless and he transforms Barnum into his charming, enchanter of a carnival barker; knowing exactly what to say to win people over and scrap together a magnificent show on charm and peanuts. He tackles the role with a dashing bit of charm rather than a sleaze of a conniving barker and it makes his delivery all the more likeable.
Zac Effron comes off a bit wooden time to time. He alternates between being stiff as a board and flashier than a strobe light. His footwork and vocals are spot on and there’s a particularly stunning musical number with him and Jackman in a bar that has to be seen. Michelle Williams is a simple but wondrous and loving character that effortlessly fills you with warmth and care. Zendaya pulls off some pretty impressive feats, though her character does feel a bit limited to the forbidden fruit Effron is longing for. The cast of freaks and performers all chip in their dues as well and it really brings a cohesive assortment of iconic figures, faces and voices to each and every extraordinary musical number and dance sequence.
Perhaps this film is just Hollywood fluff stuffed with music, fantasies and a caricature of the real character of P.T. Barnum, and maybe I am taking its sunny song and dance routine too strongly at face value. But I cannot deny the vivid enjoyment I experienced while watching and listening to this colorful carnival piece. The film sings about doing and loving what you love despite if the world thinks you’re crazy. The world of critics probably thinks I’m too ignorant or foolish to know what good taste is in musicals. But I don’t really care, just like Jackman. “The Greatest Showman” is something he’s always loved to do and I’m right there with him. Critics and box office numbers can say it’s a bomb, but I say it’s more like a fireworks show; colorful and charming enough for all to enjoy.
I give “The Greatest Showman” 3 stars out of 4.