The Greatest Showman – A Glossy Version of P.T. Barnum’s Life

Phineas Taylor Barnum. This was the man who gave birth to show business. He pulled the different out of the crowd and gave them wings. He promoted equality, to treat everyone equally, and in this way, to be the philanthropist that the world would take note of. At least that’s what the movie tells us.

In reality, however, P. T. Barnum was a visionary with an exceptional imagination. He was a great believer in using hoaxes to bring success to himself. While The Greatest Showman showed him as uniting different people, included those of color, the real Barnum had a slave, a commonality in those days. To be fair, he knew what he was doing and believed that entertainers and hoaxes went (or rather go) hand in hand together. How would one explain magic shows, then?

The Greatest Showman is, fittingly, a musical. For the man who brought show business to life, his life story should be nothing less than a great show of pomp and splendor, both visually and audibly. But it is all gloss over the reality of the man called P. T. Barnum.

Hugh Jackman (sigh) plays P. T. Barnum in this overly glorified movie version of the man who introduced the world to show business. Barnum marries childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams) and they embark on a journey to build a world together. Barnum loses his job and when he comes back home, a trick he uses with his daughters gives him a business idea and he sets out on a wild goose chase.

Barnum takes out a loan and starts a museum, the failure of which sends him headfirst into another dimension. This is where a related tangent opens up to him. He starts a search for unique people. He sees something in them. He brings them out for the world to see, in a format that warms people’s hearts. There is grandeur in his schemes to equalize and normalize these people. But even in those times (actually more in those times), haters were a larger percentage of the population than there are today. Although, I must say, it seems like it’s coming full circle now.

What follows is whether or not Barnum keeps his head when success rears its head. Will his dreams that grow bigger uproot his life, or bring stability to it? For it is when confronted with this that a man’s true worth comes forth.

The Greatest Showman stirs a part of the heart that runs after exciting, tantalizing music that makes you tap your feet. As an Indian who watches Bollywood churn out song after song, it made me happy to watch the show on screen. Agreed, The Greatest Showman is a musical. But the sad part is that is one with an amped up soundtrack that tries to be the best. And when something tries too hard, it grates on your nerves. It’s as if you want to correct it, but cannot. Moreover, you cannot put your finger on what exactly you need to be doing right.

The performances are above average, Hugh Jackman taking the cake. I knew he could sing but had never heard him in action. But oh boy! The Greatest Showman made me ask why Barnum was named thus and not Jackman. Also, special mention to Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle. I was pleasantly surprised, maybe because the Baywatch trailer had me dead.

The only performance I didn’t like was that of Rebecca Ferguson’s Jenny Lind. Just like the music of the film, she tried too hard. I saw this in a few scenes and even though the others had her play her part well, these were the ones that stood out like a sore thumb. Also, Zendaya. She has the same expression that she had in Spiderman: Homecoming and it made me wonder if she can act at all.

The music, the cinematography, and a majority of the performances give you a strange thrill that keeps you entertained. In hindsight, however, it is not much of a story to go on. And the way the entertainment is kept up despite this is an ode to every department. Although, I’d like to say that I have a newfound crush on Hugh Jackman after this one.

All in all, The Greatest Showman is an energetic, foot-tapping musical, sans a great story (a good one perhaps), that you can definitely watch once! If not for anything else, watch it for Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Picture Courtesy: Playbill.com !

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