The Greatest Showman

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

They don't make movies like this any more! Well, that's not exactly true. They made this one. And it's not bad, a musical extravaganza with a number of eye-popping production numbers. And it did OK at the box office, too, so maybe they'll be making more movies like they don't make any more.

It is a very loose biography of P. T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman. In fact "very loose" is probably an understatement; a number of the characters and plot-driving incidents are completely made up. But Barnum might have approved: why let the facts get in the way of a good yarn?

Barnum is the son of a scrabbling laborer, catching the eye of a rich man's daughter. Much of his motivation is to scramble for an opening into upper-class society. His ambitious dreams bring him to establish a "museum", which is really kind of a (literal) freak show. His tireless promotions bring him monetary success, but not the respect he craves. He finds a pathway to that by persuading Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to embark on an American tour. But before you can say "second act crisis", This causes him to neglect the freak show/circus (bad) and also his wife and family (worse). But do things eventually work out? Sure!

Very predictable? Yes. You bet.

The movie, for better or worse, finds Deep Lessons in Barnum's story. Aren't the freaks people too, deserving of respect? Of course, and we're beaten over the head with that. Also, there's an inter-racial romance between Barnum's white business partner and an African-American trapeze artist. Doesn't that cause problems? You bet.

This movie would probably be pretty dreary without Hugh Jackman in the title role. His enthusiasm and charisma really carry the day.