The Greatest Showman
by Tony Medley
Runtime 105 minutes.
One of the many good things about La La land (2016) was that it opened with a
captivating production number that set the audience in an upbeat mood
for a good time to come. This film mimics La La land with a
smashing production number that ended far too soon for me. Thatís not
too surprising since Benj Pasek and Justin Paul wrote the music for
both. This one opens with a number as entrancing as the opening of La
La Land. My understanding is, and I could be wrong, that they wrote
the music for The Greatest Showman before they wrote the music
for La La Land.
Directed by Michael
Gracey (a commercial and music video director) from a screenplay by
Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon and a story by Jenny Bicks, this is
allegedly a biopic about Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum (Hugh Jackman).
But I didnít need to do much research to know that it leaves a lot of
truth and fact unsaid. Itís a throwback to the old musical biopics of
the thirties and forties in which the basis of the story is true, but
the details are pretty much hogwash. But you donít go to this movie to
learn about P.T. Barnum. You go to it for the music, dancing, and
production values, all of which are outstanding.
An example of things
not to be taken seriously is the implication that opera singer Jenny
Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) tried to seduce Barnum in a unashamedly
manipulative way during a tour of the United States promoted and
sponsored by Barnum. According to Arthur A. Saxon, who edited over 3,000 of
Barnumís letters, such an action would have been totally out of
''Besides, Jenny was one of the great 19th-century prudes.'' Maybe it
makes for good theater, but it has no place in a play or movie
representing itself to be biographical.
So my main criticism of the film is that it pictures Lind as a
promiscuous woman of loose morals when she was an amazingly virtuous,
deeply religious woman, giving most of her profits of the tour to
charity. There is no acceptable reason to put a stain like this on the
reputation of a woman who cannot defend herself, and Gracey and Bicks
should be ashamed of themselves.
Further, there is no evidence I can find that the tour he sponsored for
Lind in 1850 ended the way shown in the film. In fact, although Barnumís
relationship with the tour did end early, the end was amicable.
Jackman gives a sparkling performance, ably supported by Michelle
Williams who plays his wife.
I enjoyed the
movie. Itís got wonderful music and good dancing, and I came out of it
feeling good, even if I knew it to be Hollywood Hokum and that I had
learned very little about the real P. T. Barnum. But Barnum created a
fine life relying on hokum, so why not enjoy this movie for what it is,
a blatantly fictitious story extraordinarily loosely based on people who
lived almost 200 years ago? If you want to be entertained, this is a
movie for you; just donít believe much of what you see.