I absolutely adore the The Greatest Showman, and I need to tell you all about it! If you haven’t seen it yet, let me explain why you need to see it immediately!
The Greatest Showman started out pretty weak at the box office but its return appeal and word-of-mouth popularity have helped it gain steam in recent weeks. I can speak to the return appeal because as of Saturday, I’ve seen it three times in theaters, and I’d go see it again if someone even hinted they wanted to get out of the house instead of watch the Superbowl.
I’ll start out by saying that I’m well-aware this film glosses over Barnum’s problematic side. There’s no however to add here. P.T. Barnum and his show did take advantage of the people he employed in some horrible ways. That’s just history.
The film does have several nods to his less than stellar management techniques and his selfishness. Barnum is a charismatic showman, and he’s also a conman. I approach the fictional adaptation of P.T. Barnum much like I approach the fictionalized version of Alexander Hamilton.
They’re both smart, ambitious men who can be so. damn. stupid. Their wives deserve better than their shenanigans, and if they only listened to the ladies they were married to, life would have been so much easier.
In the framework of the film, Barnum’s character appeals deeply to our love of the underdog. His father was a tailor who died when P.T. was young, so he was forced to fend for himself. The girl he falls in love with, Charity, is of a much higher station and gives up everything to be with him. For years they make a solid go of it, but they never strike it rich. Their marriage is solid and they love each other so much. It’s beautiful.
Finally, Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman who absolutely OWNS this role) loses his job, but manages to take some official documents with him detailing owning of a flotilla of shipping vessels. He takes that loan and turns it into the first version of his show, a museum of wax figures and a pickpocket turned magician named O’Malley.
It’s his daughter’s criticism that the show has “too many dead things” in it, and that it needs to be “sensational” that turns things around for Barnum. Later that night, he thinks back to a disfigured woman who gave him an apple when he was a poor boy on the street, and he realizes that he needs live oddities; not wax figures.
In that sense, Barnum finds the hook he’s been searching for. He assembles a ragtag group of sensational human beings and appeals to society’s sense of curiosity and condemnation to keep his show sold out. This also helps him give his family the life he has always wanted to give them and feels he has failed at up until this point.
So, why do you need to see The Greatest Showman? I mean, I haven’t given you much to flail about.
Let me break down three BIG reasons why I love this film.
Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are no strangers to success. They earned an Oscar last year for “City of Stars” from La La Land, a Tony for Best Musical for Dear Evan Hansen, and a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for Dear Evan Hansen.
In less than a year, they’ve nearly got themselves an elusive EGOT. They only need an Emmy now.
The songs of The Greatest Showman are catchy and fun, but most importantly they blend into the movie. This isn’t a film with songs in it, this is a musical and the songs are the movement of the entire film.
Pasek and Paul create a larger than life persona for Hugh Jackman’s Barnum with showstoppers like “The Greatest Show” and “Come Alive” while managing to give quiet moments with “Tightrope” sung by Michelle Williams’ Charity, who is a vision. They empower us with “This is Me” sung by Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle), they give us inspiration with “A Million Dreams”, and they sweep us up in love with “Rewrite the Stars”.
Then there’s “The Other Side” sung by Jackman and Zac Efron’s Philip. It’s fun and establishes the father/son relationship between the two. The bartender in the background needs the MVP award here because have you paid attention him slinging glasses? Incredible choreography and setup!
“Never Enough” sung by Rebecca Ferguson (Jenny Lind) is heartbreaking and speaks to the level in which Barnum was never happy with his success and always reaching for more. In the end, she realizes that even the success she’s given him will never be enough either.
I would highly recommend listening to the songs even if you don’t want to go to the movies. If all you see if one performance, let it be this one:
Anne and Philip
My freaking heart! These two will make you swoon and sigh from the moment he sees her.
Zac Efron’s Philip isn’t the knight in shining armor either. He screws up, and Anne, played by Zendaya (who is a damned treasure) doesn’t fall over herself for him.
She’s realistic and strong. She sees the world as it is, and she tries to tell him that things won’t ever be how he imagines them, especially if they are a couple outside the circus.
This is hit upon hard in the song “Rewrite the Stars”. It shows the white, male privilege that Philip has and the complete lack of understanding of what it would be like for Anne if they were a couple. He’s never been in her shoes nor will he ever be able to put himself in them. Everything seems like it would be so easy because love is enough, right? If you come from Philip’s background, the answer is yes.
Anne tells him the world won’t accept them, and there are obstacles in their way that are far too big to overcome. Honestly, at that moment, I don’t think Philip is ready to take the verbal abuse people would send their way either.
In the end, the theme of the film (creating your own world), finds them both the center of the circus and together. The outside world may never accept their interracial relationship, but whose approval do they need when they can rewrite the rules everyone plays by?
Philip and Anne are one of the highlights of this film. If anything, see it just for the choreography of “Rewrite the Stars”. That scene is INSANE and larger than life.
Keala Settle, playing Lettie Lutz
Give this woman a freaking award immediately!
She’s the heart and soul of this film, and I think she steals every scene she’s in. Lettie is the “Bearded Lady” with a lovely singing voice. That’s how she’s marketed at least.
In truth, she holds together what goes on behind the scenes with the other members of the circus, and when Barnum slams the door in her face to keep her away from his “fancy” new friends, she delivers a standing ovation worthy song, “This is Me”.
Even after Barnum leaves them to fend for themselves when he goes on tour with Jenny Lind, she shrugs off the way he ignores them and continues on. Then when P.T. comes back and his life is in tatters, she and the other members of the circus lift him up enough to realize he needs to fight.
The song, “From Now On”, is Barnum’s promise to them and his family that he’s going stop chasing the applause and he’s going to work on making their lives better. They’re the ones who have always been there for him.
It’s Lettie who hands him his hat and pushes him toward the door so he will go and find his wife. I really enjoyed Jackman and Settle’s chemistry and this film.
Keala Settle is incredible and her raw, emotional performance in “This is Me” will make you tear up. I can’t wait to see her perform this one on Oscar night! You know what, just go back up to the top and watch the lyric video again. I am.
You can still catch The Greatest Showman in theaters! You’ll leave with a smile on your face. I promise!