When I was a kid my parents took me to the city to see the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus. I remember the elephants. I remember the trapeze artists. And I especially remember the tigers. I wish I could remember more. But the indelible memory I have is one of grand spectacle.
It’s also no secret that I love musicals. I grew up listening to Phantom of the Opera. The musical format combines two things that are very important to me: music and story.
So when I heard they were making a musical inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum, I was excited. But when the trailers dropped, I was underwhelmed. A trailer’s job is to sell me on the movie, and for me, the trailers for The Greatest Showman failed to do that job. Combine that with the fact that my local theater wasn’t showing it, and I had to drive over forty-five minutes to get to a theater that was, and I just wasn’t convinced this was a movie I needed to see on the big screen.
I regret it took me so long to see it. Because The Greatest Showman had me from the very first moment.
The opening moments of the film work beautifully to connect you with the characters, and that connection lasts throughout. I could go into the myriad reasons I relate so much to this story, but that would perhaps be out of place. So instead let me say this: there is something relatable for absolutely everyone within this film. Whether it’s the passionate pursuit of your dreams, longing for a family, searching for a place to belong, or striving to overcome prejudice, no matter who you are there is something you will connect with.
Musicals made for the screen sometimes have trouble making good on the actual music part, and I’m delighted to say that The Greatest Showman absolutely delivers. The songs are at turns infectious, fun, heart-wrenching, and rapturous. There were several moments that simply left me breathless. As I write this, I am listening to the soundtrack.
There were a couple things that took me out of the movie, however briefly. First, some of the ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording – basically overdubbing some of the vocal performances) were off, in particular with Sam Humphrey’s Tom Thumb. Which is a shame, because his visual performance is very good. Contrast this with Rebecca Ferguson’s song “Never Enough,” which was not actually her voice, but was dubbed by Loren Allred, which not only worked beautifully but which was arguably the most captivating moment in the entire film. I just wish it worked as well for all the performances. Also, the bearded-lady is already enough of a spectacle without her…assets…flailing about. It was comical when it wasn’t meant to be, and that’s a problem. That’s all I’ll say about that one. But in the end, these are small complaints compared to the overwhelming success of the rest of the production.
Hugh Jackman is possibly the only guy that could pull this movie off. He anchors the entire film, and has once again proven that he is one of the greatest talents we have. But he is supported by a cast that give stand-out performances in their own right. I maintain that Michelle Williams is one of the most underrated actresses working today. Rebecca Ferguson gives a wonderful performance. Zac Efron played a perfect counterpoint to Jackman, and played a likeable guy for once. And last but certainly not least…Zendaya. I’ve never understood what the hype is about. I get it now.
Add to this an ensemble of incredibly talented dancers and performers, and you have the making of a true spectacle. I was initially uncertain whether a movie could do justice to something like a live circus performance. Those doubts were unfounded.
I regret that I didn’t get to this film when it was released in 2017. If I had, my top five films of 2017 list would have looked a little different. It made me smile. It made me joyous. It brought tears to me eyes. It is not a film I will soon forget.
Powerful, captivating, and bursting with heart, The Greatest Showman is not to be missed. At its heart, it is a film about priorities, about pursuing your dreams, yes, but never forgetting the beautiful people in your life, and doing your absolute best to live up to their love, even though none of us ever can. Love is simply too great a gift.
Dreams don’t make love possible.
It’s the other way around.