“The Greatest Showman” captures the title of feel-good movie of the holiday season this year. A glimpse into the life of P.T. Barnum of circus fame, “The Greatest Showman” is sure to bring back memories of going to the Big Top during your own childhood. I know it did for me.
Struggling to make ends meet, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) concocts the idea to begin a museum of curiosities but when his daughters Caroline and Helen (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely respectively) complain about everything in it being dead he decides to expand. Recruiting “freaks” to populate his new show, Barnum finally finds success, drawing in crowds. He wants more, however, so he makes Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) a partner, hoping Carlyle will bring in those of his own upper class.
With the support of his wife, Charity (Michelle Williams), Barnum enlists the help of Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), an opera singer, to bring in more money to the show. When Barnum sets off on a road tour with Lind as the main attraction, Charity has her misgivings. So do the others who helped Barnum make his circus successful, the “freaks” who have bonded into a kind of family. With Lind in the picture, Barnum begins treating the others with less than the respect they deserve. One of the best parts of the film happens when the circus folk, lead by the Bearded Lady (Keala Settle), sing the song, “This is Me,” emphasizing that they are people deserving of respect and love, no matter their “oddities.”
“The Greatest Showman” doesn’t go deeply into its characters, preferring to stay on the surface, not really showing us what makes each of these fascinating people tick. What makes the film so enjoyable is the toe-tapping music and stunning choreography. Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron exhibit their singing and dancing as does Zendaya, playing the black trapeze artist, Anne Wheeler.
What seems so abhorrent to us today was, unfortunately, common for the 1800’s when Barnum started his circus, the exhibition of the strange, especially in the form of people whose differences kept them from being accepted by society. What Barnum wanted to do with his circus was not to exhibit these people to be laughed at but to give those in the audience a chance to see them for the people they were, human beings just like the rest of us, deserving of respect, love, family and belonging.