Hugh Jackman has been working to get this film to cinemas since 2009. With his star power, the production team has been able to assemble an exceptionally talented cast for this musical interpretation of the life of P.T. Barnum. Many of the articles about the film have less to do with the content of the movie than a critique of the real-life central character and his circus. Can the film survive the tide of critics of history, even though it is billed as an inspirational rags-to-riches tale and the celebration of the American spirit?
The Greatest Showman provides a unique view of Barnum’s (Jackman) rise to fame as the consummate showman and marketer. Despite his humble beginnings, this dreamer not only developed the modern day big top extravaganza but was instrumental in establishing the industry known as show business. Seeing a market in the unique and macabre individuals in society, he went around recruiting these outcasts to serve as a drawcard for his new version of entertainment. Even with the vitriol of critics and many in the streets of New York, the crowds still came to see Barnum’s show and made him a wealthy man. In his attempt to understand new opportunities to grow his entertainment empire, he began to forget what helped to get him to the top of this world of fickle fans.
Within moments of the opening credits, it is evident that the first time director Michael Gracey is going for a production that is reminiscent of a Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) film. With modern music as the backdrop for the 1800s, it takes a bit of time to adjust to but it does complement the style and tone of this musical event. The quality of performances was entertaining and accessible for families, even though it never rises to the finesse and class of a Luhrmann production. This maiden venture for this fledgeling director had its challenges, but the strength of the score and performances made this a worthwhile choice for the holiday season.
Each of the musical numbers provided a glimpse into the commitment from the actors from the opening until the closing credits. Jackman embodies the lead character with an impassioned vocal and acting performance. Even though the portrayal of Barnum may not have been historically accurate, the winsome depiction of the entrepreneur drove the story ahead in fast forward and was rounded off well by the supporting cast. Zac Efron (Baywatch) proves that he shines in the musical genre and delivers some of his best work since Hairspray. These seasoned musical performers had the phenomenal back up from Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World), Zendaya (Spiderman: Homecoming), Keala Settle and Rebecca Ferguson’s (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) on-screen work.
In this award season, there are so many films that are designed for a mature audience or the younger set, but few for families. Despite some of the artistic interpretation of P.T. Barnum’s life, this an entertaining and enjoyable choice for all ages. It will ring true for the music lovers, for those who love to see people pursuing their dreams and for all who desire to find joy in going to the cinema again.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
The Greatest Showman is one of those stories that have the potential to reach in and grab the audience’s hearts, despite what they may think of the PT Barnum of history. Seeing someone overcoming odds and achieving their dreams do have a profound effect on the spirit of individuals and continues to be a mainstay in western cinema.
Even though most of us may never achieve the fame and fortune like this master showman, this should not dissuade people from pursuing their dreams. From a Christian position, goals and dreams are not merely for the individual. The real source for these pursuits finds their roots in God and his purposes for life. In scriptures like, Psalm 139 it states that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God which moves our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. Not because of who we are, but because the God who is the author and director of our lives.
A question that may arise from this film may be about your dreams and pursuits, but how do we discern their origin? The best place to start is to ask these questions of God through prayer and engaging with the Bible.
1. What is the value of the human spirit? (Proverbs 20:27, Romans 8:16)
2. Should we pursue our dreams? (Proverbs 16:3, Jeremiah 29:11)
3. What should we do in difficult times? (John 16:33, Philippians 4:6-7)