Saturday, April 17, 2021

The Greatest Showman: A Romanticized Biography Becomes an Energizing Musical




The New Year is finally here—a time which marks the beginning of new ideas, new ventures, and new stories. So, what better way to start the beginning of 2018 then by reviewing Hugh Jackman’s latest film and personal dream project: “The Greatest Showman.” The film is a biographical drama/musical about the story of Phineas Taylor Barnum, or P.T. Barnum as he became known, the man whose investments and exploitive ideas led to the creation of the show business venture known as the “Circus.”

Living in poverty with his wife and two daughters in New York, P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) dreams of a better life for them. After taking out a huge loan, he opens his own museum in Manhattan, only to find customers disinterested in seeing wax figures. When that idea fails, Barnum tries again, this time by taking his museum in a different direction and filling it with living curiosities: such as Tom Thumb the Shortest General in the World (Sam Humphrey), or Lettie Lutz the Bearded Lady (Keala Settle), and other “odd individuals” he attracts to his museum.



As the show develops a growing audience and angry protesters, P.T. Barnum takes on a business partner known as Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). With his help, the show’s popularity flourishes, as does Barnum’s reputation as he’s introduced to notable figures like Queen Victoria, and famed Swedish singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). But like all rising stars, when you fly too close to the sun, you’re bound to get burned. And in Barnum’s case, when you rise too close to the spotlight, you can become blinded by it.

“The Greatest Showman” is more of a romanticized retelling of P.T. Barnum’s story rather than a historical one. The overall film feels almost like watching a Disney movie. Considering this movie was produced by 20th Century Fox, the very company that was recently bought by the Disney Corporation, it sort of is in that regard. There are times where the movie tries to humanize Barnum and make him more of a complicated character. Because while he clearly wants to make his audience—and his family— happy, he is still exploiting people for their oddities and talents to make a profit, which even he admits in the story.

In the end, however, the overall film focuses on Barnum’s actions with his family and show business, rather than his life or personal views. But whether you like or dislike the methods and actions of P.T. Barnum, there’s no denying the man was a groundbreaking entrepreneur whose ideas contributed to the entertainment industry and show business, which I believe was the main intention of “The Greatest Showman.”

While the film falls a bit flat in trying to be a biographical film, what it does excel at is being a musical, because the songs are what truly carry this film. The choreography, music, and lyrics all blend together to make some of the most memorable song numbers I’ve seen in a while. They’re fun, catchy, and even as I write this, the lyrics are still playing in my head, so I can confirm that they’re unforgettable. If you’re a fan of musical films that utilize energetic dance numbers mixed with catchy music similar to “Footloose,” “Chicago,” or “Moulin Rouge,” then “The Greatest Showman” will leave you happy. It definitely helps that the songs were composed by Academy Award winning lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who many may recognize for their musical work in the 2016 hit film, “La La Land.”

“The Greatest Showman” is rated PG for thematic elements. This is a fun film for all ages and is a pleasure for the eyes and the ears. People looking for an accurate and historical portrayal of P.T. Barnum’s story may be disappointed in the direction the film took, but then again, given that “The Greatest Showman” is a musical, there was bound to be changes to the overall story. If you can look past the inaccuracies and narrative of the story, then the music and choreography will lead you through an enjoyable experience you won’t regret. Which is why the final score for “The Greatest Showman” is an 8 out of 10.

Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.

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