The Greatest Showman

I’ve never really been a fan of musicals, and of the handful that I’ve watched, I only merely tolerated them, or only liked certain aspects. Basically, I probably would never have bothered with any of them if I hadn’t been married. I tolerated “Mamma Mia” when my wife insisted on watching it. I could enjoy the ABBA music, but not much else. I liked “Rock of Ages” for it’s great 80’s Rock soundtrack (and a scantily-clad Julianne Hough), but aside from a few chuckles, I didn’t much care for the story. “La La Land” was a complete bust for me with its unmemorable original musical numbers that kept getting in the way of the story, capped off with a non-sensical ending.
But with “The Greatest Showman”, I can give it credit for one amazing achievement…It was a musical that I truly enjoyed (and an original musical at that). It was the one time when I thought that the music and story were both great, and blended together perfectly.
A young Phineas Barnum works with his father who is a tailor for the wealthy Hallett family. It’s there that he develops feelings for their young daughter Charity. She likes Phineas as well for his ability to make her laugh. Despite Charity’s father’s attempts to keep them apart by sending her off to school, they continue their relationship through letters. Years later, a grown-up P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) marry and have two daughters. 
While Charity is happy with the humble life they lead, Barnum dreams of giving his family more of the finer things. To achieve this, he takes out a risky bank loan and opens “Barnum's American Museum” in downtown Manhattan. At first featuring only wax models and stuffed animals, the museum does poorly. But when his daughters tell him that he should feature more things that are “Alive”, Barnum begins his search for human “oddities” to serve as performers. 
He finds dozens of performers, including a bearded lady named Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle). A dwarf who Barnum gives the stage name of General Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey) and a beautiful African-American trapeze artist and acrobat named Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). 
Their show becomes a huge, albeit controversial hit. It draws lots of angry protesters who don’t want to be subjected to “freaks” in New York City. A poor newspaper review refers to the show as a “circus”, which Barnum adopts as the new name for his museum. 
Despite his success, Barnum desires to find a way to put on shows that appeal to the upper class. To achieve this, he enlists the help of a respected playwright named Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). Phillip is initially hesitant about joining because of his social status, but his attraction to trapeze artist Anne and Barnum’s persuasive nature makes him say yes.
 Phillip arranges a trip to London for the entire troupe to meet Queen Victoria. It’s there that Barnum meets singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and convinces her to let him promote a concert tour across America. Hoping this will be the show that finally gets him the respect of the upper class, he takes another huge financial risk to go on tour with Jenny, leaving Phillip in charge of the circus. This results in estrangement from his wife and kids, while the attraction between Phillip and Anna grows deeper even though it’s not considered socially acceptable for them to be together. 
As far as musicals go, I feel this one hits all the beats. It’s everything a musical should be. It’s is a very upbeat, feel-good kind of movie that is very easy to watch and enjoy. The music is captivating and memorable. You’re never once made to feel sad, and at the end everyone is happy. Of course, considering the person whose life the film is based on, you should expect nothing less. 
The mere fact that this movie is something that I can really enjoy is considerable evidence that this has a mass appeal. I wouldn’t expect a lot of teenage boys, or young men to be too interested in seeing it (unless forced to by their girlfriends). 
The casting of the roles was excellent. Hugh Jackman gets to shine as a performer in a way that he just doesn’t get to do in those X-Men movies (which I’m also a huge fan of). Zendaya is great in her role as well, showing that she is more than just her Disney Channel beginnings. I did have a passing thought about whether Zendaya was an accurate representation of what an African-American looked like in the 19th Century, but this was certainly not a movie that was too concerned with realism. 
The script certainly took a lot of artistic license in terms of the historical facts of P.T. Barnum’s life. The relationship between Barnum and singer Jenny Linn is played up considerably to create a little drama in his marriage during the movie. But recorded facts don’t show that things were ever anything more than professional. Also, while a lot of the members of the circus troupe shown on screen are based on actual performers, the characters of acrobat Anne Wheeler and Phillip Carlyle (including their love story) seem to be completely fabricated. Some might argue that a more realistic portrayal of Barnum’s story would have been better, but then, P.T. Barnum was never one to let something like reality get in the way of entertaining people (something that is made painfully obvious throughout the movie). 
Overall, there isn’t too much to find at fault with this movie, and while it’s on the Movie Network, I’m likely to watch it several more times.
4.5 stars out of 5

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