It’s a showcase of humanity; a circus
The Greatest Showman: a dramatised movie of the legendary P.T. Barnum who owned the P.T. Barnum and Bailey Circus. The timing is especially salient since it had its last show this year. By all accounts, the movie itself has many parallels to the real P.T. Barnum. He started the circus with fake and exaggerated artefacts and used people like the bearded lady to attract customers. The real P.T. Barnum was by no means a honest man. He made his monetary ambitions quite clear from the beginning. This contrasts with how he was portrayed in the movie.
Jackman definitely earned his nominations for this role, playing the titular character with charisma I’m sure the real Barnum also possessed at times. Hugh Jackman is a born showman, made for this role. You would expect nothing less from a man with such a rich background in musicals, but this movie takes it to another level.
Every performance, every song excelled visually and was accomplished with great flair. The dance routines were ingenious, using props and talented dancers who greatly executed the tough choreography. The bar scene, where Barnum and Carlise, Zac’s character, negotiated a deal and they danced and exchanged shot glasses, sliding them back and forth across the slippery table. To be able to make a scene as tight and limited, with three performers, a couple of stools, and a bar into something exciting and enjoyable, shows how well the routines were thought out.
Though it being a musical, Jenny Lind, played by Rebecca Ferguson, was voiced over by a talented singer, Loren Alfred. Even so, Ferguson’s acting was on par with the singing, a believable performance that slowed the pace of the fast moving movie, readying it for act two. Her colleagues, Zac Efron, Zendaya and Michelle Williams were amazing singers in their own right, needing no voice overs. Williams plays Charity, wife of the great Barnum, who could have been overshadowed by Jackman, but her subtlety in the way she expressed the character’s thoughts. She made her more than just the perfect wife they wrote for her. Zendaya, a performer and a Disney starlet, did her own trapeze stunts, which is surprising since you can have a stunt double in those kind of shots, but the director wanted to make sure she was seen.
Zendaya and Zac Efron play two star crossed lovers, which society frowns upon because of Carlise’s social standing and the colour of Zendaya’s skin. But being a feel-good movie with cozy, heartwarming scenes that were on the verge of cheesiness… Actually scratch that, not on the verge; this is actual complete cheesiness. It only touches the surface of society’s narrow-minded outlook on anything beyond what they deemed to be normal. In 19th century New York, narrow mindedness was a sentiment shared by all classes. The whole movie’s theme was centred on this idea that the outcasts, the different and the abnormal, are not to be discarded but to be embraced for their unique and individual traits.
Though, it seemed that half of the movie was skimmed over, leaving out more than there was. For example, the dance number of ‘This is Me’, which made me feel pride for their new founded confidence and fierceness. But nothing else much came off it. As if it never even happened. Yes, I enjoyed the movie no doubt. It was aimed for your enjoyment, nothing too heavy but enough for you to feel for the rejected members of the troupe in a way that many movie-goers will relate to, as I had.
But I wanted more from what had been shown of the characters: the bearded lady who sang like a dream, a snarky and quick-quipped 22 year old dwarf, and Anne Wheller, the beautiful trapeze artist—their ten minutes on screen had me to waiting for more of their storylines that never came. Instead, we get the greatly exaggerated storyline of Barnum’s oh-so-interesting life that had seemed more like a montage with great soundtrack.
The Greatest Showman is directed by a first timer in the director’s chair, Michael Gracey, who Jackman had persuaded to take on the job. He was known for nothing more than Australian commercials, but for a movie as grand and adventurous as this one, it was one heck of a breakthrough for him. The movie itself, the original songs and performances, the song-writers and composers themselves greatly deserve the attention they had been receiving during the award season. In particular, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who had been nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes for “This Is Me”. A song that made my Songs to Sing in the Showers playlist, which is a very much contested spot.
A movie that makes it on the list of feel-good movies this year, something that you can and should watch during the holiday season with family and sing along to.