This film has great catchy songs that steal the show and fully immerse you in the experience. The lyrics are not cerebral, but, poetic and easy to follow. Which is of no surprise, considering they’re written by the Oscar winning lyricists of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. The songs do a brilliant job of moving the story forward. There are several songs throughout the film that are so pleasant to the ear that you forget which song you enjoyed the most; we’re almost spoiled with too much good music and lyrics.
The Greatest Showman tells a tale of a show business legend who became criticized as a conman that rose from poverty to create a wondrous pageantry of a parade wrapped up in a live show filled with freakish performers of human rarity in a portrayal of their unique talents that ultimately became known a worldwide phenomenon. Though Phineas Taylor Barnum, aka P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) was a son of a tailor who grew up as an orphan living in scarcity, his mind was filled with a synthetic and creative imagination that guided him toward the discovery of his gift of becoming an entertainer. After putting up his only asset as collateral, he receives a loan from a bank to open a wax museum, only to be ambitious enough to hire abnormal people with talent to perform bizarre acts in a circus. Barnum’s undeniable belief in his vision provides confidence and self-esteem to his team of live performers that gain vast applause and admiration from the public who sell-out their shows.
This major public recognition sidetracks P.T. Barnum into satisfying the affluent clientele he’s attracted by hosting live shows for an opera singer, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible) who performs an entire song on stage that’s so incredibly mesmerizing that it’s worth the ticket of admission to the movie theatre just to experience the hypnotic influence the song can have on you sitting in your seat. But, of course, P.T. Barnum’s vision gets blurred by this focus of attention in pleasing the prosperous clientele, going astray from what’s most vital to his well-being; losing the respect of his performers and the love of his wife, Charity Barnum (Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World).
Barnum meets Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) a playwright who recently had a successful play in London. When Barnum attempts to recruit him, Carlyle refuses: “I can’t just run off and join the circus.” To which Barnum rebuttals, “Why not? You clearly have a flair for show business.” To which, this is, perhaps, the first time that the term show business was coined in history. Zac Efron does a solid job in portraying a masculine playwright who is recruited by Barnum to join him in his freak show of entertainment.
There’s no doubt the existence of what I refer to as ‘cheese drama’ throughout the tale, but, your eyes will stop rolling once you’re bombarded by a continuous stream of beautiful music. You’re not moving your body or changing your facial expression, but, there is undoubtedly a chemical change occurring within. You know that “feel good” chemicals are being released from your brain with all the emotions the songs strike at the chords within. The Greatest Showman is a wonderful and culturally relative musical that has many lessons to take heed to. Like La La Land, this is another example of how musicals have the power to spoil us. Once you’re exposed to the power of a good musical, where live-action narrative scenes of dialogue are masterfully structured and intertwined with musical pieces, you may find yourself temporarily returning to narrative films and become bored by characters constantly talking without any movement of dancing or singing.
The film has a brilliantly written scene that argues art with heavy dialogue versus live-action:
“Who’s that young man over there?” P.T. asks his wife Charity.
“That’s Phillip Carlyle. A bit of a scandal, they say. His last play was a hit in London.” Charity says.
“Play?” Pt. Barnum asks. “Pay good money to watch people stand around and talk for two hours and they call me a conman.”
“The most noble form of art is to make people happy” is the renowned quote by P.T. Barnum. And that is exactly what visual effects artist and filmmaker Michael Gracey does in directing this delightful film known as The Greatest Showman.