The Greatest Showman is an unexpectedly modern musical showcasing the broad and varied performing prowess of the oh-so-likable Hugh Jackman. The movie, set in the 19th century tells the wholesome tale of an entrepreneurial dreamer, PT Barnum and his path to creating the highly controversial PT Barnum Circus.
The cast of The Greatest Showman is one not to be sneezed at with Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya and a handful of unknown but gifted singers and actors such as Keala Settle (who has a phenomenal set of pipes) backing up the star of the show, Hugh Jackman.
The plot shows a poor unseemly Barnum fall in love with a girl far beyond his class. He struggles to get from meal to meal until he finds work on the railroads and then returns as a young man to marry his childhood sweetheart, stealing her away from her life of privilege.
They struggle to make ends meet with Barnum’s big dreams hampered by the reality of the responsibilities of life. In a turn of unlikely events, Barnum manages to get a bank loan to buy a wax museum. With its imminent failure on the cards, Barnum’s two daughters give him the idea to transform the gallery into a show of people with unique oddities and talents from all walks of life, later to be called the PT Barnum Circus.
Barnum partners with Carlisle (Zac Efron) to network his way to appeal to the upper-class. In the end, Barnum’s need to be accepted and recognized sees him lose his fortune, his wife, children and his Circus. Redemption comes as Barnum realizes that making a buck and being loved by the rich and prestigious aren’t at all critical. He’s created a family for his circus performers who were once outcasts, and the love of his wife and family is enough.
The musical pieces performed are modern, epic, and provoke emotion. I damn near cried listening to the first song. As current as the songs are, and as old as the historical setting is, they somehow meld effortlessly, and it’s all very believable. The movie pushes a plethora of positive themes from every angle – Dare to dream, including the marginalized, stand up for the oppressed, don’t give up when your chips are down, and the list goes on.
In spite of the feel-good slant, never have so many contentious issues were brought to the surface under the guise of such positive themes. Part of me wants to applaud the wholesome morality, but the rest can’t help but feel these issues are only minimized undeservingly by a lack of conflict. This absolutist approach to morality ends up being what limits the movie from being good to being great. The Greatest Showman tiptoes around the issues at the core of its story which doesn’t evoke enough emotion to get you.
That said, The Greatest Showman is a great family-friendly movie with oodles of musical talent to admire and a cast that lifts what could have been an average film. I don’t regret seeing it, and will probably enjoy watching it again. There’s no doubt this movie could have reached loftier heights though if the producers had abandoned such a narrow portrayal of the story and let the issues lose in more realistic and personalized on-screen conflicts. The movie is indeed an entirely new concept and one that provokes a public response.