(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem about a secret shame or secret pleasure, and this recent film’s subject seemed to fit the bill perfectly.)
I know I shouldn’t like it. It’s offensive and uncouth,
So say the few who rule opinion rather than the truth.
It’s liable to rock the boat that should be left alone
And make me think the world has wider interests than my own.
It’s odd and loud and so lowbrow that it will never be
Completely free of grievances and animosity,
And those who claim approval for a thing condemned so far
Will lose esteem as others deem them equally bizarre.
I know I shouldn’t like it, based on cruel analysis,
The kind that glares and does not care how personal joy is.
But if I say I like it, surely I won’t be alone;
There’s always some who won’t succumb to sanctions set in stone.
MPAA rating: PG
I love musicals, and I don’t really understand people who don’t. When catchy music, a compelling story, and strong performances combine, it’s sheer magic, and even one or two out of the three can still be darn entertaining. I had high hopes for The Greatest Showman, and this is one of those rare cases where a movie met and exceeded my expectations.
The film tells the fictionalized story of P.T. Barnum (Jackman), from his humble beginnings as a tailor’s son to his romance with the well-to-do Charity Hallett (Michelle Williams) to his risky efforts to open a museum of the odd and unusual. Barnum’s ploys draw the ire of savage critics, and he endeavors to appeal to both the common man with his circus and the judgmental elite with a new right-hand man (Zac Efron) and a European opera star (Rebecca Ferguson).
I have no idea how true-to-life the film’s events are, and my guess would be probably not very. I’ve always thought of Barnum as an unabashed huckster taking advantage of people’s willingness to be fooled, and that’s certainly part of Jackman’s character. Yet he’s also depicted here as a devoted family man, and his profiting off of his circus of “freaks” also resulted in a newfound confidence and home for those who society had rejected. Jackman’s Barnum strikes a good balance between user and empowerer, and the film is wholly supportive of him and his sideshow, so engagingly in fact that its historical accuracy (or lack thereof) doesn’t detract one bit from the entertainment value.
Having loved both Les Miserables and High School Musical, it was wonderful seeing Jackman and Efron back in musical mode, joined by Williams and Efron’s fellow Disney Channel alum Zendaya as their respective love interests. Yet as good as its stars are, The Greatest Showman soars on the strength of its music, courtesy of Broadway duo Pasek and Paul, who just won an Oscar last year for La La Land’s lyrics and a Grammy and Tony for the show Dear Evan Hansen. I’d already heard the biggest numbers “The Greatest Show” and “This Is Me” (Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee for Best Song), but I wanted to experience the rest of the soundtrack firsthand as part of the movie. Those two are wonderful with “The Greatest Show” (uninterrupted) probably being my favorite, but the whole soundtrack is electric. I was dancing in my seat during “Come Alive” and “From Now On,” and the exuberant choreography only added to the infectious joy. I could recognize first-time director Michael Gracey’s experience with music videos, since even a barroom conversation between Jackman and Efron is given rare visual flair, though the reliance on CGI at times does crack the illusion a little.
It seems strangely fitting that The Greatest Showman’s real-life success mirrors its subject. Many critics have complained about inspirational fakery, and it currently has an inexplicable 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences, on the other hand, know a good thing when they see it, and as Barnum himself says, they don’t care if they’re being fooled when they’re happy. It’s easy to criticize something as shallow, but does it really matter if you genuinely enjoyed it? There’s such a thing as a guilty pleasure, but I feel no guilt for loving The Greatest Showman in all its inspirational, misfit-embracing, crowd-pleasing glory. It’s a wholesome spectacle I can’t wait to see again and, after the acclaim of last year’s La La Land, hopefully a sign that original movie musicals are becoming popular again. (Can someone please adapt Wicked or Hamilton now?)
Best line: (Barnum) “Hyperbole isn’t the worst crime. Men suffer more from imagining too little than too much.”
Rank: Top 100-Worthy
© 2018 S.G. Liput
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A very Happy Easter to everyone!