The Greatest Showman (2017)
(Directed by Michael Gracey; written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon)
(Spoiler alert: if you want to be completely surprised by the themes contained in this film, see the movie before reading this blog.)
Those who regularly read this blog will not be surprised to hear that I enjoyed another musical. The Greatest Showman is top-notch musical entertainment and leaves one with things to consider. The whole time I watched the show I felt drawn to finding a community theatre company in which I could sing and act. I wanted to be Hugh Jackman as much as he wanted to be P.T. Barnum. As I left the theatre I was reminded of the realities of life that would get in the way of such aspirations, but I suspect that musicals like this do inspire others to act, sing, dance, write stories, and compose music. Such movies are good for our collective consciousness.
The movie tackles several contemporary themes as it follows the life of the man who invented “showbiz.” The theme that is perhaps most prevalent is the idea that every life matters and that our differences should be celebrated. I found that the actors, director, and producers did well to make this an important theme without clobbering the audience with the concept. Yes, there are moments when Lettie Lutz (the bearded lady) is overpowering with the message of celebrating differences; but there are also times when we see that P.T. Barnum and others who revered diversity were flawed and simply enjoyed a good “freak show.” The film is accurate in recognizing the struggle we all face in embracing those who are exceptional.
The movie also contemplates questions about status and station in life. Barnum is shown to have been born into poverty and low social-standing and he is always on a search to achieve a greater status. He is never satisfied with money or fame as long as he is treated as a lesser citizen. Never is this clearer than in his interactions with his wife’s parents and their high-society friends.
This naturally leads to introspection about the question of “when is enough, enough?” Capitalism, and the search for a good life with sufficient wealth is seen to be in conflict with diversity, status, and satisfying relationships. Of course, these questions also affect two significant love stories held within the movie. Barnum’s quest for status, fame, and money get in the way of his relationship with his children and his wife, Charity. Meanwhile, Phillip Carlyle, who comes from a wealthy family of high social-standing finds it hard to leave behind the adoration of high-society to fully embrace his love for Anne Wheeler, a common trapeze artist in the circus.
The singing, dancing, lyrics, special effects, and colours of the movie are all well-done. I encourage you to see it for yourself and let me know your reactions.