The Greatest Showman

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The Greatest Showman

Runtime 105 minutes

One of the many terrific 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.

That’s 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.

If you want to be entertained, this is a movie for you; just don’t believe much of what you see.

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 didn’t need to do much research to know that it leaves a lot of truth and fact unsaid. It’s a throwback to the old musical biopics of the ‘30s and ‘40s in which the basis of the story is true, but the details are pretty much hogwash. But you don’t 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 Barnum’s letters, such an action would have been totally out of character, adding, ‘’Besides, Jenny was one of the great 19th-century prudes.’’ Maybe it makes for good theatre, 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 and Condon 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 Barnum’s relationship with the tour did end early, the end was amicable.

The multi-talented Jackman gives a terrific performance, ably supported by Michelle Williams who plays his wife.

I really enjoyed the movie. It’s 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 don’t believe much of what you see.


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