The Greatest Showman is a 2017 American period musical drama film directed by Michael Gracey, written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya. The film is inspired by the story of how P. T. Barnum started the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the lives of its attractions.
Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.
The story takes considerable liberty to deviate from Barnum’s complex real-life story to simplify it into a family-friendly, light and entertaining narrative. The music and cinematography are dazzling and the whole movie is well-made, bound to delight the masses. The music and performances (particularly Jackman’s) are mesmerising and I left the theatre with some of the theme songs humming in my head, eager to get my hands on the movie soundtrack.
In real life, the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth was closed forever earlier in May in this year, due to change in audience preferences as well as concerns of the ethical treatment of animals. The movie is being released at the right time, with audience curious about the rise and fall of circus entertainment and to find out more about one of the most influential man in the business, P.T. Barnum himself.
For the animal lovers, rest assured that no animals were harmed in the production of the movie and the focus was mainly on the human ‘freaks’ – Barnum’s crew of live acts and curiosities, including albinos, giants, midgets, fat people and acrobats.
The movie theme is centered heavily on dreams and aspirations, following screen version of Barnum’s pursue of creating the “Greatest Show on Earth” to put a smile on everyone’s smile, rich or poor, young or old, regardless of background. As such, there was considerable scrubbing of his life story to present a very sanitised version which portrayed him in a thoroughly positive light. Jackman delivers here, giving a very convincing performance of Barnum as a humble birthed tailor’s son who went on to achieve great things, amassing a fortune along the way, but always trying to knock at the door of the upper echelon of society to end up getting dust on his face.
In this current day and age of ‘fake news’ and internet sensationalism, much of what Barnum was doing back then to peddle the strange and the odd, often heavily exaggerated through sensational marketing, kind of seems the same. Human nature has not changed much.
The same goes for the demarcation between what was considered trashy theatre content (Barnum’s circus) then, compared to the Broadway type high brow productions. In today’s context, sites like Buzzfeed and Vice draws the click, but no one will regard them to the like of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Everyone wants to be considered as purveyor of class, but no one would admit that they sometimes pander to the masses. In this respect, Barnum was a guy ahead of his time. Among the other circuses and freak shows that were prevalent during his time, at least Barnum was marketed as a cut above the rest, in real life, enabling many of his curiosities like the midget, General Tom Thumb and the Siamese twin, Chang and Eng, to become very rich individuals who lived full and fruitful lives.
As a viewer, I definitely wished that the movie was able to explore more depth into Barnum’s character as well as that of his other curiosities, but given the limitation of what can be packed into a movie length, The Greatest Showman delivers in entertainment value.
There is a side plot on Zac Effron’s character as a protege to Barnum and his love relationship with a circus acrobat played by Zendaya (the young Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Homecoming). The latter is considered to be from a lower stratum of society because she is black and a circus acrobat while Effron’s character is born into high society. As such, their love poses challenges and make for a few romantic love songs in the movie which will definitely go down well with couples watching the movie.
There’s just something very magical about a suave, high society guy falling in love with a beautiful, proud circus acrobat. If Jackman alone is not enough to wow you, Effron and Zendaya will fill the gap:
For the festive period, The Greatest Showman is a great movie to watch with your family or loved ones for some wholesome family values, entertainment and great music.
The Greatest Showman will be showing in Singapore cinemas from 28 December. Go catch it!