8 out of 10
Overall rating: 8/10
Entertainment rating: 4/5
Intellect rating: 4/5
Welcome to my first movie review! I’ve realized that I have (almost) as many opinions about movies as I do about books, so I thought I would start giving my thoughts on the movies that I already see, in my day to day life.
Note that I’m using a new rating system:
3 is neutral
1 is “so horrible it’s backwards”
5 is life-changing
Here, both 4s indicate that I am positively scoring the movie in each category. It is both entertaining and intellectual, just not the makings of a great American classic.
This movie is just so charming. Especially the in the beginning. I was blown away by the opening song and the love story. I nearly cried at the apple scene… There was so much witty banter and moments that made me crack up.
That goes for the story itself. But this is a musical, which means that a large part of the entertainment value comes from the songs themselves. Let me start off by saying that the music is AMAZING (even the child singers were great, and the cast didn’t sound as if their voices had been modified). Not every song is a hit, but about half of them have been stuck in my head all week. The songs are a little odd for a musical. It seems like each one of them could be a stand-alone pop song. In that way, they sometimes seemed repetitive or long, but the movie definitely made it work by varying the choreography and lyrics.
For instance, in “The Other Side,” there is a chorus that at first seems like it would get repetitive: instead, the two characters singing twist each other’s words in a way that still make in interesting to listen to. As for the choreography? Absolutely amazing. I mean, that is not something I typically look for or pay attention to. But the song and dance sequences told a story and had enough to do with the characters and plot themselves that I couldn’t really look away. Of course, the CGI elements didn’t hurt, either.
As an example, “Rewrite the Stars” shows some amazing back and forth between the characters, as well as great acrobatics. But even “Never Enough,” which has almost no movement whatsoever, includes so many small details between the characters that the sequence is irreplaceable: this slow song lets us really get familiar with the conflicts the characters are feeling, which is unfortunately quite rare in the movie.
I don’t have many specific complaints. The songs are wonderful, but not wonderful enough that I immediately remembered their names/melodies/lyrics. The storytelling and visisble are quite impressive, but not life-changingly impressive. Not something I’ll remember on my death bed (except for “This is Me,” which is absolutely amazing).
I will say that I was disappointed with the “This is Me” scene. Of all the songs with amazing storytelling and movement in the movie, this wasn’t one of them. I actually much prefer the trailer version. It’s far more varied.
The pacing is break-neck. Things never slow down, except during some of the songs. They also try to fit in a lot of interwoven themes, each of which could be its own movie (ambition, prejudice, social judgement, fair-weather friends, etc.). I think this movie could have used a much longer run-time, like in Hamilton or The Last Jedi.
The main theme reminds me a lot of Auntie Mame. I’m not entirely sure what to call it, but I’m tempted to say it’s the “social judgement” theme: certain things in our society are designated as desirable or undesirable. In some cases, taboos and virtues are logical. But other times, they’re based on, well, nothing. The Greatest Showman does a good job with this. For instance, Philip, a high-society playwright, complains that even his own plays bore him to tears. He tells Barnum that all he’s selling is virtue, not actual entertainment. I’ve read a few reviews of the movie that claim this theme is old and worn out: however, I can personally confirm that the vast majority of the people I’ve interacted with have not learned this lesson.
And in fact, the movie teaches a lesson I haven’t learned yet: to not care about what others think. To realize that you can’t please everyone, but you can sure as hell please yourself and your friends.
It’s just not super remarkable. I’m not sure what else to say on that point: some lessons are presented well and stick with you for a long time, and others aren’t.
As another, minor point, I was confused by a few things throughout the movie. Some of these things became apparent in hindsight, but one question of mine still remains: why did everyone keep calling Barnum a fraud? The vast majority of his acts were real, if slightly exaggerated at times. Who cares if the fat man is 750 pounds or 500 pounds? The math is not the point! The circus still includes General Tom Thumb and the original Siamese twins! And live zoo animals! And real acrobats! Very little of this show is made up!
However, I do have one more substantial complaint. When I first watched the trailer for The Greatest Showman, I was blown away and inspired: “How empowering! How progressive!” But when I was it the second time, I thought to myself, “Wait a moment… Wasn’t he exploiting these people for money? By putting them on display in a ‘freak show’?” I discussed this with a friend, and we agreed that it could go either way: on one hand, their “deformities” are being gawked at for entertainment and enriching someone else. On the other hand, it’s the first time that their talents have ever been accepted and often the first time they weren’t afraid to go outside their homes.
Does the movie address this? Kind of… It technically does, but it’s a little too subtle for my tastes. In the end, Barnum does genuinely care about his new family. The performers are far more confident and outspoken. They stand up to prejudice instead of cowering from it. I’ve even seen a few quotes from real life floating around, informing me that Barnum was indeed an avid abolitionist and that his performers did genuinely find empowerment in the show. I just wish that the movie had made it slightly more obvious for oblivious people such as myself. I would have even preferred it if this was the main theme. I don’t normally judge a movie based on what it could have been (like many critics do). But in this case, I felt genuinely uncomfortable and distracted thinking about the movie’s lack of emphasis on the prejudice and empowerment narrative.
Should you go see this movie? Well, it’s definitely a fun and worthwhile way to spend an outing. I think my money was well-spent, and I certainly believe that this movie is best seen in theaters (at the very least for the opening sequence).
Because let’s face it: it is a great show.