P.T. Barnum grew up in a sad predicament. He loved a young girl, but his social class prevented him from being with her. He didn’t have much money, and the company he worked for went bankrupt. However, after hard work, Barnum became the ringmaster of the famed P.T. Barnum Circus in the mid-19th century. As Barnum ascended to his role, upper-class citizens looked down upon him, criticizing him for associating with “circus freaks.” In the process of creating the circus, Barnum encountered a variety of obstacles, including a scandal between him and one of his performers, the departure of his wife, and a fire that burned everything down.
Director Michael Gracey brings this true story to life in his new movie The Greatest Showman, which I highly recommend you see.
I’ll admit: I wasn’t sold on the movie at first. At its beginning, when we meet Barnum and Charity, the woman Barnum falls in love with, I figured this would be just another cliché story about star-crossed lovers. Sigh.
But to my pleasure, it wasn’t that. Not exactly. The movie quickly passes over their childhoods, reveals their ultimate marriage, and evolves into a much deeper story about a variety of topics like balancing professional life and family life, working hard, and trying to prove self-worth.
The absolute highlight of the movie is its acting. Hugh Jackman, who plays Barnum, steps out of his typical role as the tempered anti-hero we remember from The Wolverine or the fearsome swashbuckler we remember from Pan. This time Jackman perfectly embodies a new, quirky, and hardworking character. He portrays Barnum’s successes, like when he creates the circus empire, triumphantly, and he enacts Barnum’s failures, like when the circus burns down, perceptively.
Jackman also sings an epic solo in the first scene with a number that has a slow beginning and eventually builds to an explosion of sound and song, showcasing his theatrical prowess.
The rest of the movie also has a beautiful soundtrack, with songs ranging from the inspiring and uplifting to the exhilarating and heart-pumping. “Rewrite The Stars” is a touching duet between Philip and Anne, two other characters who love each other but are afraid of Philip’s high-class parents’ opinions. Lyrics go back and forth between the two and center around how much they love each other and how much they wish they could be together. Even if a bit sappy, the song was well-written and has a good tune, so I liked it.
In contrast, “The Other Side” is a fast-paced song about Barnum persuading Philip to join him as co-owner of the circus. It’s so catchy it will make the audience want to sing along! Then “The Greatest Show” is a very modern-sounding song with heavy bass and some electronic effects, while “Never Enough” is a solo piece that uses a piano, violins, and cellos. Altogether, the songs are unforgettable and fun to sing, so the movie is even more pleasant to watch a second or even a third time.
The performers enhance the soundtrack and story by weaving in elaborate and unique choreography that—I promise—will impress you. Gracey brings in different circus members with various specialties to spice up routines and add elegant and exciting moves to each dance number. The complicated choreography involves both extraordinary physical feats—like flips, for instance—and flashy dance moves that keep the movie entertaining.
I had very few problems with the movie, but I disagree with the choice of actress Zendaya in the role of Anne. Although Zendaya is an experienced actor, too many traits of the sassy teenage rebel she typically played on Disney Channel—remember Shake It Up?—appear in Anne’s more serious character. She acts too much like a modern-day teen in the way she speaks and behaves, a portrayal that doesn’t align with the mid-19th century time period of the film.
Despite that slight flaw, I still highly recommend The Greatest Showman to people of all ages. Whether you seek a romantic date night, a hangout with friends, or a family outing, you’ll find this movie is fun and enjoyable for all. The film also deals with fitting in, conforming to social norms, and facing discrimination, ultimately sending a positive message about accepting who you are and doing what you love even if everyone else is against you.
This movie really is a musical masterpiece, and it comes together to create an aesthetically pleasing, larger-than-life story about one of the greatest showmen the world has ever seen.