The Greatest Showman

Not one to rush out to the theaters to spend $10 to see a new film, I just watched The Greatest Showman on DVD. In short, it’s a fairly entertaining film, that I’m glad I saw for free.

The story of famed showman/huckster, P.T. Barnum, this musical is a fictionalized biography. The film’s got pizzazz and color. I enjoyed the dancing and songs, though the day after viewing, I can’t remember any lyrics. Thus as a musical something’s missing. With a great musical, you can remember several songs. Think West Side Story, Oklahoma, Les Mis. I can sort of hum one of the songs. But I’m not sure I could hum much.

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) grew up poor and was friends with a little rich girl, whom he eventually married in spite of her father’s protests. The mother’s never seen for some reason. The story segues to Barnum toiling in your typical, dark, dreary 19th century office. His spirit is wilting. Then the company folds and Barnum decides to enter show biz. Before you know it he realizes there’s money to be made by producing freak shows that allow the public to see a bearded lady, a giant, Tom Thumb, a little person, a man with a skin condition, etc. After some creative marketing, people are flocking to Barnum’s show and the cash is flowing in.

The film portrays Barnum’s efforts as inclusive. He did hire these people and before working for him they were outcasts. The film does show that Barnum yearned to be accepted by the elites and once he succeeds by using a concert he produces with famed singers Jenny Lind, he shuts the door on his cast, who don’t look polished and elegant. According to History vs. Hollywood, Barnum’s attitude towards diversity and the disabled wasn’t so cut and dried. Clearly, the film paints Barnum as a flawed champion of outcasts. He did hire these people and gave them a means to support themselves and to form community and friendships. I’m not sure how well they were paid. Yet in the film, these characters weren’t well developed. We see no scenes that show Barnum as cultivated a friendship or deep understanding of any of his performers. This aspect and the lack of memorable songs, are the film’s weakness for me. The story’s quite cliched, though it’s well paced and colorful. I wished for more.

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