by Kaitlyn Thompson
With over seven years in the making, Hugh Jackman’s most recent film captures eyes and ears across the world. “The Greatest Showman” is a family musical that debuts the start of entertainment in a time when originality was not encouraged.
First time director Michael Gracey brings the story of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) to life. Though the film itself is highly fictionalized, “The Greatest Showman” is based on a true story and contains elements that show the hardships that Barnum had to endure while trying to realize his dreams.
The film begins when Barnum is just a young boy of around ten years old working with his father; while also falling in love with a girl named Charity. As the two age, Barnum grows into a vivacious man and marries Charity (Michelle Williams).
Once they wed, Charity and Barnum begin their lives as a young couple with dreams to live a wonderful life. The pair are then blessed with two daughters. They seem to be a normal, happy family, but what Barnum realizes is that he never fulfilled the promise he made to his wife; the promise to give her the life she desires. At that point, Barnum sets out to make his dreams a reality. He wants to create a show no one had ever seen before.
Barnum’s imagination is so outgoing and original, that it leads to the creation of the Barnum Museum. This museum is filled with odd trinkets from different time periods and many other out of the ordinary antiques. When this plan fails, Barnum finds inspiration to discover people with extraordinary traits or talents to bring his museum to life.
This brings the bearded lady, Tom Thumb, Dog Boy and many others to the spotlight. When time comes for the first performance, the new recruits are spat at, tormented and humiliated. However, this moment does not stop these special performers from showing what they have to offer. They may have been treated with disrespect, but their unique abilities grabbed the audience’s attention. This is where the film begins to unravel and show all the colors that make it a truly original film.
Finally, Barnum accomplishes all that he hoped and dreamed for, but he is not satisfied. This character mindset puts the climax and falling action into play. Barnum wants to be on top to prove that he made something of himself when most people thought he never would. By recruiting Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), Barnum was introduced to a new world, and to his hopes, a new audience. With the help of Carlyle, Barnum was able to add the “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson), to his performers list. By adding this character into the film, a different tone is created. While on the tour Barnum created for Lind, he and Lind are accused of having an affair, forming a pivotal moment in the film. It is soon realized that Barnum’s greed fogged his judgement and duties as an entrepreneur, father and husband.
Upon discovering the false allegations were plastered across the nation, Barnum must win the affection of his wife back. After doing so, Barnum then must save all that he has worked for when his museum is torched, and the lives he has come to love and appreciate are almost lost. As his life seems to be falling with no stop, Barnum finally realizes the true meaning of what it is to be the greatest showman.
Throughout the story, there are many characters introduced, many tones and messages that create an enjoyable story line. One being the underlying love story between Carlyle, Barnum’s successor, and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), a trapeze artist. Carlyle is a wealthy, Caucasian man and Wheeler is an African American performer for Barnum. The two share a love connection that is forbidden during the setting of the film simply because they are of two different races. Another main story line is how the performers, like the bearded lady and Tom Thumb, want to be accepted for who they are.
The film’s director does an excellent job in creating a movie that celebrates diversity in a time when those of different races or physical defects were not appreciated and accepted. Jackman’s performance was spot on, and seemed to channel the real P.T. Barnum’s personality impeccably. Efron, Zendaya, Ferguson and many others delivered performances that told the story without the slightest blip.
“The Greatest Showman” may be about the creation of the circus, but it is much more than a few singing actors. The story itself and its music score tells a story of hardship and success in a way that is different than most films. It invites people into the story while delivering messages that relate to this time just as much as they would have then.