A Deliciously Shallow Good Time: ‘The Greatest Showman’

by T. Mack

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Rotten Tomatoes has The Greatest Showman at a dismal 55% from the critics, but a 90% from the people. The critics are mad because this movie doesn’t even come close to telling the real story of P.T. Barnum. But then, what “inspired by a true story” movie ever really does? The people have judged this movie on it’s beauty, music, humor, and joy. The 90% rating speaks to the happiness audiences feel after watching this film. If you want history, watch a documentary. If you want a helluva show, watch The Greatest Showman!

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The Greatest Showman is a story of P.T. Barnum–not the story of P.T. Barnum, mind you, but one “inspired” by his. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman (what can’t that man do?), is a believer in the impossible, an optimist, and a dreamer. Although he is born poor, he has an idea and enough charisma and gumption to pull it off. He brings together outcasts, turns them into a family, and creates what we know today as the circus.

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This movie is a spectacle of color, singing, and dancing. It’s beautiful to look at and fun to experience. There are love stories. There is bravery in the face of prejudice. There is excitement and there is, in the end, the feeling of triumph. If I’m honest, the film is completely emotionally manipulative, but I was too giddy afterward to care much.

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Though the film isn’t perfect, it is perfectly cast. Hugh Jackman is amazingly charming. Disney vets Zach Efron and Zendaya are cute and sweet. Michelle Williams, who has never been my favorite (Team Joey for life! That’s a Dawson’s Creek reference, kids.), is simply wonderful and perfectly lovable. Even the child actors in this film do a pretty good job and never stumbled enough to pull me out of the movie.

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So why are critics so down on this film? Well, because the story is thin, lacking the depth of Barnum’s real life or any true character development. The social commentary is hinted at but never really dressed down. The musical numbers are all over-the-top and strangely modern, despite a historic setting. And the whole thing is mostly fluff, like the movie version of cotton candy. Any true depth the film could have had is mostly sacrificed in favor of spectacle. Critics critique. It’s what they do. So instead of leaning into the visual and musical spectacles, they tore them apart.

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My question is this: Since when do we need to take a musical that seriously? Yes, critics loved the over-thought and over-wrought downer of a musical that was LaLa Land. But every musical that comes after doesn’t need to be that. The Greatest Showman is loud, fun, and uplifting. Everything about it is shiny and bright, spectacular and shallow, sugary and overly optimistic. It uses nuggets of truth to tell spectacular lies. It’s total escapism and pure fun. That’s the point!

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The Greatest Showman not a historical telling of a life. It’s a spectacular, musical telling of one. If you want the former, subscribe to The History Channel. If you want the latter, go see The Greatest Showman. Don’t take it as truth and definitely don’t try to take it too seriously. If you follow my advice, there’s a 90% chance you’ll really enjoy yourself.

Rating: 4 SHIELDS

4 SG Shields

Have you seen The Greatest Showman? Take to the comments and tell me what you thought. Are the critics right? Is this movie a bad time? Or did you have fun with it?

 

 

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