Monday, December 18, 2017

“The Greatest Showman”– Movie Review


This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new musical, “The Greatest Showman”, starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams and Zac Efron.


When P.T. Barnum attains great success as a circus master, will he lose both his business and his family when it all goes to his head?


In the 19th century, the childhood of Phineas T. Barnum was not an easy one; his mother passed and he was put to work early, assisting his father, a tailor.  Being poor, he greatly envied those with financial resources – his yearning for wealth only grew when he was orphaned after his father’s death.  But when Barnum became a man (Jackman), he married Charity (Williams), his childhood girlfriend, who herself came from a family of means.  Together, they went on one of life’s great adventures, where she blessed him with two daughters.  Life would not remain so blissful. 

After losing his bookkeeping job when his employer was forced to shut its doors, Barnum cons a bank into loaning him some money so that he could start his own business:  a wax museum.  Once the museum fails to get enough visitors to sustain itself, Barnum gets an idea:  add some live acts to appear before an audience.  He then sets out to hire all sorts of interesting and curious looking people:  midgets, giants, morbidly obese, bearded women, etc.  He even hires performers like jugglers, magicians and acrobats.  The idea works and Barnum’s “circus” becomes simultaneously famous and infamous.

Rising through the ranks of high society, Barnum engages Carlyle (Efron), an aimless young man from a wealthy family, to be his partner.  Carlyle handles things from a business standpoint and arranges for Barnum and his troupe to meet the Queen of England.  It is there he meets Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), a beautiful young singer who’s the toast of Europe.  Barnum decides he will introduce her to America by taking Lind on a tour of the country.  But things get out of hand when she fails at an attempted romantic entanglement with Barnum, causing both to abandon the tour and lose money.  Returning to New York, Barnum finds himself bankrupt and without a business as his circus has burned down.  With Charity threatening to leave him, will Barnum be able to regain his career and family before it’s too late? 


Is “The Greatest Showman” a family movie?  It might depend on your definition of the term “family movie”.  If by “family movie” you mean something you could take your kids to and not feel the least bit squeamish or embarrassed having done so, then the answer is yes. If by “family movie” you mean something that your children might like, then the answer is maybe.  If by “family movie” you mean something that both the parents and spawn would enjoy equally, then a most unambiguous no is the answer.  It’s about as squeaky clean as a film about adultery could possibly be.

Seeing the movie “The Greatest Showman” is very much like seeing an actual Broadway musical.  Depending on your general feelings toward Broadway musicals, that could either be a very good thing or a very bad thing.  The film is definitely a spectacle, whatever that may mean to you.  Be forewarned that if you are in the least bit annoyed by the fact that characters can barely have three lines of dialog before they start bursting into a song and dance number, then perhaps this motion picture is not for you.  It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for the actors and actresses on screen.

In the event that you do not fit into any of the above categories, there might be one entry point to this movie where it could be appreciated on some level:  politics.  If you look at the popularity of Barnum as being an allegory for The Trump Phenomenon, then the symbolism is stark.  During his time, the general public liked Barnum because they found him entertaining.  He exploited vulnerable people to the enjoyment of many and to his own enrichment.  Sure, he hoodwinked everyone, but not only were they fully aware of it, they liked it very much.  Barnum = Trump?  Perhaps it’s a less outrageous comparison than you may think.


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