Friday, June 22, 2018

The Greatest Showman

This is a visual treat, I can fully see why so many people raved about it. Rated PG it’s suitable for almost the whole family, and with foot tapping songs, creative choreography and fabulous costuming, it’s hard to watch it without being entranced and with a constant smile on your face.

It’s based loosely on the life of P.T. Barnum, creator of the circus. Starting with his poverty stricken childhood, Phineas starts a friendship with upper society girl Charity. Here the first of the many hit songs, “A million dreams”, get the story under way. By the end of the song, they are grown up, happily married with two girls and he is still trying to earn enough to give her the life he promised.

Attempting to be a success, he buys a museum of curiosities, but his girls comment that rather than having it full of dead stuff, they need something live, something “sensational”. Phineas (Hugh Jackman) starts searching for people who are oddities in society, and those with particular gifts. Shortly he gather a troupe of performers including a bearded lady, an obese man, a dwarf, some conjoined twins and albinos, as well as trapeze artists and other performers. Nothing is always quite what it seems, as many of the ‘oddities’ aren’t completely real. While acclaim is coming and the building is filling for the fantastic show, a rough groups of locals is starting to protest, not wanting these types of people around. A newspaper critic for the Times challenges him “does it bother you that everything you are selling is fake?”

While success and money are flowing in, what Phinneas really wants is to be accepted by New York society, for they only see him as lowborn and crass. He enlists the help of Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), upper class playwright, and what follows was one of my favourite scenes with he and Jackman in a bar with the snappy song “To the other side”.

Carlyle manages to get them an audience in London with Queen Victoria and they convince opera singer Jenny Lind to come and tour under Barnum’s name. It seems that all of Barnum’s dreams are coming true. Meanwhile Carlyle is falling in love with the trapeze artist, Anne (Zendaya) and we all loved the scene with two of them on the trapeze, “Rewrite the stars”.

In the end Barnum has to decide what matters - chasing the acceptance of others, or the friendship of those around him? Does he strive for success or does he choose to look after his family?

Every song in this movie is a hit: strongly performed, crisply choreographed and lavishly costumed. I like every one, and we often now have the album on in the car.

I was very hesitant when I first saw the shorts for this movie. My gut reaction was: they are going to take a story of a man with some very shady actions and turn it into a celebration of humanity and all its diversity. And that is exactly what has happened. 

Having said that, the story they have created is great. So my feeling is: it’s worth seeing and you will enjoy it. Your kids will most likely love the grand show, the songs and the acting. But then make sure you let them know that while it’s based on real people, it’s not real and the circus really did have pretty shady beginnings. Enjoy the movie and the show for what it is, but don’t imagine it’s a history lesson.

And then, just maybe, if they are a bit older and enjoyed seeing Hugh Jackman sing and dance, you might move on to much a deeper, richer story in musical format, Les Miserables.

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