The Greatest Showman has been met with a wide range of reviews from critics and audience alike, and somehow (good or bad) they all seem to ring true.
On one side of the spectrum, people are seeing the film three, four or even five times in theaters, and have had the soundtrack on repeat since their first viewing. On the other side, many have criticized the film for the manner with which it has erased some of the more “dark” elements of the circus’ history in favor of a flashy show and a feel-good message.
To the latter point, there is something interesting in the timing of this film’s release, as on May 21, 2017, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus closed shop on the heels of 2016 criticism for animal abuse and exploitation. The Greatest Showman, of course, does not set any of these aspects at the center of the film, but rather highlights the themes of family and home, as well as diversity and acceptance.
The film opens with what in itself is a show stopper: Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, red jacket, top hat and all, surrounded by heart pounding choreography and gripping cinematography. Immediately followed by a tear-jerking tale of love, the first ten minutes of the film alone establish an expectation for a wide array of emotions, as well as multiple storylines that run throughout the almost two hours.
While much of the movie exists purely for the sake of stroking its own ego and showcasing how visually clever it is, it also delicately weaves in an awareness for current and topical social issues that do not feel out of place in the time period presented.
Whether it is Zendaya and Zac Efron’s interracial relationship or the role of Barnum’s supportive, yet independent-minded, wife Charity, The Greatest Showman creates a timeless sensation. This intersection includes many classical film techniques mixed with current music and lasting relevance. At times this is disconcerting, but the overall experience makes up for these moments of conflicting cognitive dissonance.
Among the more characteristic and memorable lines of the film come from P.T. Barnum himself, as he says, “People come to my show for the pleasure of being hoodwinked.” Maybe I, too, have been hoodwinked by The Greatest Showman, but if that’s the case, it is definitely worth the ride.