Movie Review - The Greatest Showman
Barnum was a poor boy, born the son of a tailor who made clothes for the rich but was never rich himself. Barnum's father died when he was young. His mother had already passed, so Barnum was an orphan who lived on the streets, having to steal or beg for food. Eventually, he got a job working for the railroads. This sustained him until he was able to marry the love of his life.
At first, Barnum struggles financially to give his wife the life he promised her, but she's not materialistic. Yet, Barnum feels that her father always looked down on him and so he has to prove that he's not what her father thinks. Barnum feels he has to prove he's just as good, if not better. By the end, Barnum has to realize that wealth isn't everything. It's all about family. A familiar refrain in rags-to-riches stories or biopics about people who rise to acclaim or fame.
When Barnum was living on the streets, he was shown kindness by a person with a facial deformity. Later, he gets the idea to have his museum feature people who are considered "freaks" or outcasts. First, Barnum finds a little person whom he calls Tom Thumb, played by Sam Humphrey. Next, he finds a Bearded Lady, played by Keala Settle. We see him recruit a whole bunch of sideshow performers, including a pair of trapeze artists and the Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng. The movie portrays those people as real oddities and curiosities, which is purposeful because the movie is also about the racism and bigotry toward these so-called freaks.
Again, the movie isn't a strict Barnum biopic, but a huge aspect of his life is the idea of him perpetrating hoaxes and humbug. This movie barely brushes against that idea. The truth is that Barnum's so-called freaks might not have been real. Tom Thumb might not have been a real little, grown-man, but a child who was pretending to be a man. The Bearded Lady might have been a man with fake breasts, or a woman with fake hair on her chin. Barnum was exposed to be a con-artist to which this movie only gives lip-service.
All that being said, this movie is a musical and the musical numbers here are extremely well done. Director Michael Gracey stages and choreographs each song in such fun, zippy ways. Each contains such amazing movement and visual feasts. Each musical number is extremely better depicted than anything in La La Land (2016). All the songs lyrically are extremely better than anything in La La Land, which is odd given that the same songwriters from La La Land wrote the songs here, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Rated PG for thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.