The Greatest Showman (2017)
January 5, 2018 4:33 AM - Subscribe

A musical about American showman P.T. Barnum, founder of the circus that became the famous traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Willams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson. and Keala Settle. Songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Choreography by Ashley Wallen. Directed by Michael Gracey in his directorial debut.

How much of it was made up for the movie? Quite a bit, according to History vs. Hollywood.
posted by DevilsAdvocate (12 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's the soundtrack via YouTube, which I should have included in the FPP.

There are plenty of reasons I shouldn't have liked this movie. A basic feel-good plot where the outcome never really seems in doubt. There's a strong side message of inclusivity which I really liked, but it's marred by Barnum being too easily forgiven after trying to shut his performers out of the reception following Lind's American debut. (We don't even see any sort of forgiveness, Barnum's betrayal isn't even mentioned again after the performers storm the reception anyway. At least Carlyle had to rush into a burning building to redeem his transgression!) And the message of inclusivity would have been stronger if we had seen more of the lives of the performers. We are told, not shown, that they have become a family and the circus has become their home. One can even posit that the movie fails a quasi-Bechdel test: we never see two performers having a conversation that isn't about Barnum or Carlyle. (I don't think we even see two of the performers having a conversation without Barnum or Carlyle present, though I'm not certain of that.)

The songs were mostly bland 21st-century pop. The few I really got into ("Come Alive," "This Is Me") I liked more for the message than for the music itself. But they were at least well performed by the cast. I was disappointed to learn that Ferguson as Lind hadn't sung for the movie and lip-synced Loren Allred for "Never Enough." The rest of the cast does their own singing, and well enough; why cast Ferguson as Lind if she's not going to sing, when there are plenty of actresses who can?

Speaking of "Never Enough," that was the one point when the music really took me out of the movie. Jenny Lind is an operatic superstar; I would have like her performance to be, if not actual opera, at least something stylistically different enough from the other songs in the movie to support her reputation as something extraordinary. Instead, we get another 21st-century pop song.

The choreography was spectacular. I'll give it that. Probably the best thing about the movie. I especially enjoyed the work in the duets "The Other Side" (Jackman and Efron) and "Rewrite the Stars" (Efron and Zendaya), plus the finale "From Now On."

The plot is woefully historically inaccurate, as detailed in the History vs. Hollywood article linked in the FPP, with major characters and significant plot points made up out of whole cloth. But perhaps that's appropriate on a meta level, something Barnum himself would have done if he had been writing the movie.

And yet, in spite of its many flaws, I found myself enjoying this. I can't entirely figure out why; maybe the message of acceptance (even if imperfectly done) and the choreography made up for a lot. And the portrayal of the professional and later friendly relationship between Barnum and Carlyle I found heartwarming; credit to the performances of Jackman and Efron here. There are a lot of reasons I could and maybe should have disliked this movie, and somehow I liked it anyway.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:14 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love musicals, I'm a big fan of Pasek and Paul, I have no problem looking at Hugh Jackman for a few hours, and I didn't much like this. I didn't dislike it; it was enjoyable to watch, I liked most of the songs, but really felt like the movie was kind of meh. I was shocked when the audience in the theater applauded at the end. The friend I was with said they must not have seen many musicals. I think she's right - it's got all the fun stuff: acceptance, happy ending, energetic songs, big closing number, but for people like me, I've seen it all, so many times, done a lot better.

I couldn't agree more with DevilsAdvocate about "Never Enough". Very much the wrong kind of song for that scene. My friend said it was a very ecologically correct movie; when I asked her why, she said all the songs could be recycled into other musicals.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 6:20 AM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

I admit, I really didn't like this movie. And I really really wanted to. Devilsadvocate's note that the music was bland-21st-century pop is something that I almost said out loud at three or four points during the movie. I love musicals, but (even accounting for massive differences in style) these songs weren't clever, they weren't musically challenging, they weren't particularly good in moving the story along (with a few exceptions)... so what was the point?

I'll be the first to admit that, knowing a decent amount about PT Barnum's actual life, there was a part of me that couldn't get past the downtrodden backstory that didn't quite fit... and his life would have made such a great story without being made from whole cloth! (We'll get past that he should have had a bushel of siblings, he inherited a general store that he basically kept conning-up, etc, etc...)

The attention to detail on set dressings and costume made the anachronistic dance styles and music really strange. I hated the choreography because it seemed distractingly better suited for a modern live rock show than a stage musical.

Loved the (choreography aside) visuals though. Absolutely brilliant. And the first bar-duet (even if the bartender tried to take too much focus).
posted by Seeba at 1:31 PM on January 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was wondering about the songs, cause I thought the songs in lala land were super forgettable and samey, and this is the same guy apparently.
posted by smoke at 12:44 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Saw this with my mother and we enjoyed it well enough, I noticed kids coming in as the movie was about to start and I really felt that this was a PG version of a much better movie. I liked that they didn't shy away from the obvious exploitation involved from Barnum's side, returning to it several times (not wanting to bring them to UK, wanting them in the standing area, no letting into the after-party, running off on them with Jenny, recycling the "they're going to love you" line for her, etc). I'd like to see the R-rated version of this. I was however completely charmed by the person who turned out to be Zac Efron of all people!
posted by Iteki at 5:57 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I first heard about this movie, I somehow thought it was a filming of Barnum, the 1980 Tony nominated musical. It wasn't. I can only find clips of the Jim Dale shows but the Michael Crawford version is also great in 10 minute segments.
posted by beaning at 8:49 AM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Pasek and Paul did the lyrics, but not the music, for the songs in La La Land (the music was by Justin Hurwitz); here they did the music and lyrics. But I agree that the songs from both are pretty forgettable, with the exception of "Another Day of Sun," the opening number from La La Land.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:13 AM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

If you want to hear Pasek and Paul at their best, Dogfight is pretty brilliant. They also did a really nice James and the Giant Peach, that I can't seem to find online any more. And they get a lot of praise for Dear Evan Hansen.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 12:53 PM on January 6, 2018

I saw this with my 13 year old on Christmas day. She floated out of the theater, feeling enlightened and thrilled. (Yes, enlightened. She picked up on the "racism and ostracism is bad, mmmkay?")

It had huge flaws, but it was flashy and well-done. It hit the target audience, imho.
posted by heathrowga at 8:59 AM on January 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, this is now my 4 year old's favorite movie, supplanting Moana. My husband and I find it delightfully bizarre. A little too earnest to be campy but pretty ridiculous, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:48 PM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a daughter, too, and this is no-kidding her favorite movie of all time, FOREVER! Kids love this movie, no matter how problematic, and she explains back to me, "He was hungry, and a Special Person helped him out! Special people made him great, but he forgot, and the lady singer?"

Dear reader, my child of eight years old used a bad word to refer to the great Jenny Lindt. I could not fault her for that. Her favorite character is Charity, she really likes it when she sings with P.T.

She also loves the Special People, and the OTHER love story has her crying every time. We watch this movie so much, you don't even understand. Waterworks every time. My wife is crying too, I'm crying...

Much like PT Barnum his own damn self, this movie is largely ahistorical hokum. Excellent.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:06 PM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Having just seen it, is indeed ahistorical **Awesome** hokum - and the world is a better place for all its feel good glitteryness!
posted by Faintdreams at 12:30 PM on May 23, 2018

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