Saturday, December 23, 2017

"The Greatest Showman" (2017) -- Initial Thoughts

If I had to sum up this movie in one word, it would be celebration.  Not that it's a movie filled only with sunshine and rainbows, because it's not -- there's some genuine darkness here and there.  But that only serves to make you appreciate the light more.

For centuries, actors and actresses and other showbiz folk were viewed with suspicion because so often they were "different."  Sometimes that was because they were a different race, from a different country or region, had strange abilities, even were physically unusual.  Sometimes it was because they were so transient, moving around from place to place in order to find an audience.  Theatre people have been viewed as everything from amoral to immoral to downright dangerous. 

I mean, think about what happens in Hamlet when the troupe of actors arrives.  Polonius, though he has acted in the past himself, treats them with disdain.  Prince Hamlet insists they be treated with dignity and spends quite a few words on how important they actually are.  He's clearly in the minority with his views in Elsinore, though.

But the theatre world has also long been the place where misfits are welcome.  Weirness, quirkiness, oddness, even freakishness is welcome there.  Embraced, even.  Being different can be an asset in theatre, not a handicap.

It probably won't surprise any of you to learn that when I was in college, I was considered weird.  (I didn't go to high school, but if I had, I'm sure I'd have been weird there too.)  I was homeschooled, I enjoyed studying, I liked old movies and old music and old books.  I didn't smoke, didn't party, didn't cuss, didn't skip chapel unless I was sick, didn't drink alcohol until I turned 21, and didn't like sports.  Total freak, in other words.

And I hung out with the weird people too.  The girl with the black lipstick and all the black clothes and the staggering collection of Metallica CDs.  The guy with the tattoos and dyed hair.  The girl who wore pants under her skirts and quoted Arlo Guthrie songs.  People who were weird, who were unusual, who were different

I wasn't quite in the theatre crowd in college.  I lurked on the fringes of it.  I painted scenery.  I sang and frolicked in the chorus for three musicals.  And I was friends with some of the theatre people, and went to every play they put on.  Even at a tiny, Lutheran college in the Midwest, the theatre crowd was where the weird people got to be embraced and included.  Didn't matter if you were tall or short, skinny or fat, black or white, talented or just enthusiastic -- you were welcome there, and something you did well would be found, fostered, put to use.

And that is what The Greatest Showman celebrates. 


P. T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) starts life poor.  Mistreated, malnourished, eventually orphaned, he takes a job with the railroad and goes west, coming back to New York City a respectable adult.  He marries his childhood sweetheart, Charity (Michelle Williams), who comes from a rich family but leaves them to live in a tenement with him while he works one job after another.  They have two sweet daughters, and although they're barely scraping by, they're happy.

Barnum loses his job, cons a bank into loaning him a lot of money, and opens a sort of museum of oddities, kind of like one of those Ripley's Believe it or Not places you find in tourist traps.  But it doesn't succeed until he takes his daughters' advice and hires performers and outcasts.  To the little man who would become known as Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), Barnum says, "They're laughing at you anyway -- why not get paid for it?"  He didn't try to convince the people he hired that they were normal, he helped them find ways to use their differentness to earn a living.  And by doing that, he gave them a chance for acceptance.  Not acceptance by the audiences who came to gawk at them, but acceptance from each other.

In the literary and theatre crowd at my college, we knew we were the weirdos.  We knew that the popular people laughed at us.  But we accepted and respected each other.  And that came to matter more to me, at least, than whether or not other people called me "the smart girl with really long hair" instead of my name.

There's a point in The Greatest Showman where Barnum stops accepting and including his performers.  He shuts him out of a fancy gala.  He turns his back on them and seeks after fame by a different route, escorting famous singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) across the country and promoting her concerts.  He abandons his family, his performers, everyone who counts on him.  And eventually, he realizes that by leaving them behind, he's left behind the people who accept him for himself as well.  Lind wants him to be her consort, not her manager, and when he refuses her advances, she breaks her contract and bankrupts him.  She even tries to rob him of his family by causing a scandal. 

Lind shows that even in the world of the theatre, which the movie mostly peoples with kind, generous, helpful people, there are selfish and mean-spirited people as well.  There were in my college's theatre world too -- because people are people no matter where they are, all sinners everywhere.  The lesson here isn't that theatre people are perfect and everyone else are losers.  It's that accepting people despite their imperfections, embracing their weirdness, and not trying to make them be what they aren't is a good and honorable way to live your life.


You may have guessed that I loved this movie.  I've had to recalibrate my list of favorite movies I saw in 2017 so I can fit this on it.  Hugh Jackman is one of my absolute favorite actors, and he shines so brightly here, obviously enjoying his every moment in the role.  Even the unhappy ones.  His scenes with his protege and later partner, Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), are particularly excellent.  They share a boisterous dance that I can't wait to see again.

Was this movie family friendly?  Remarkably so!  One song has the word 'd--n' in it, I think.  I don't recall any other bad language, though I may have forgotten something.  There are a few scanty costumes, some kissing.  A fire scene that would probably scare small children.  I would recommended it for maybe 8 and up.  I plan to let my kids watch it when it comes to DVD, with me to fast-forward through the fire scene.  There's also a non-gory brawl and the suggestion that Barnum's wife thinks he's been unfaithful, though as far as the movie shows, he was not.  They never say that out loud, it's all implied.

I have other thoughts about this movie too, but this is long and gushy already.  I may write another review when I've seen it again, though that might not be until DVD since I need to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the theater yet, so I might not have a chance to go see this again.  I would like to, though, because it is an awesome spectacle on the big screen.


26 comments:

  1. Loved it. Probably going to haul my friends to see it this coming week, once Christmas is over. My mom especially liked it, and she's not an enormous musical fan. Guess she found one to love. ;)

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    1. Charity, I would like to take my mom to see it while she's here, but I'm not sure it's going to work out. She IS an enormous fan of musicals, and I think she would love it.

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  2. "The smart girl with really long hair"--which is also me. I know the feeling, definitely.

    I never hung out with theater people, I guess because that isn't specifically MY type of crowd--but I absolutely hung out with other "weird people," people who I knew got me, and accepted me, and wouldn't ask me to change. It's so important to have a place like that; whether at college or anywhere else. You have to find your tribe.

    I'm so glad you loved this movie. Now I really, really, REALLY have to see it.

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    1. Jessica, yeah, it's not a bad thing necessarily to be known as "the smart girl with the really long hair" unless... some people actually don't know your name, they just call you that. To your face. Not the nicest feeling then.

      I hung out with all sorts of creative types in college -- writers, artists, musicians, actors. That same vibe of "we're the weird people, and we like it that way" kind of flowed throughout those groups, in various strengths.

      I think you will like it because it has a very distinctive, pretty visual style. Like a dark Degas painting, somehow.

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    2. No :/ Not the nicest feeling.

      I hang out with . . . the nerds, basically. That's really the only way to describe it; they're NOT artists, or creators of fiction; they're honestly just students at heart. My sister (who is an artist, and does hang out with the artist crowd on a regular basis) says that me and my friends are funny because we "speak in full paragraphs," and I guess that's true. We do kind of speak in paragraphs. And we loooooooooooove to ask each other to cite evidence, even in a casual conversation. Which definitely makes us the "weird people," at least on some level--but it's a different subset of "weird people," is I guess what I'm saying? And again, that's the whole point, I suppose--you find YOUR particular kind of weird, and you settle in there.

      That's what attracted me to it in the first place!! It had such a distinctive look, all these bold, rich, vibrant colors and fancy costumes that don't look quite real, but still beautiful and fancy . . . Like a painting, just as you said. And you know how much I love movies that are put together like paintings :-)

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    3. Jessica, I was also a nerd, and married one. But yes, you find your brand of weird and hang out there.

      I think you'll like the look for this one :-)

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    4. Just arranged that I'm going to see it on Saturday! Can't wait :-)

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  3. Hahaha! Jenny Lind! I know who she was, even referenced her in my Lawyers story. So funny that that's who Rebecca Ferguson played. This seems like a really inspirational and uplifting movie. So glad you loved it!

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    1. DKoren, I *thought* she was namechecked in a story of yours! I knew who she was too, just didn't know she was ever involved with Barnum in any way.

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  4. I desperately want to see this movie. <3

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    1. Florid Sword, hope you can see it soon, then!

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  5. SUCH a marvelous movie!!! I went to see it Wednesday and I'm dying to see it again - I feel like it's the kind of movie that should be seen on the big screen multiple times, to preserve its spectacle in my memory before forever being on my small laptop screen.

    It captured a lot of what I love so much about Moulin Rouge (but, like, on a PG level ;-)) - the exaggerated period costumes and production design, the modern music...the early dance number with Charity and PT reminded me a LOT of the "Elephant Love Medley" from MR.

    My favorite scene by far was Jenny's solo, "Never Enough." I didn't expect it to capture me as deeply and profoundly as it did, but by the end, I knew nothing was going to top that song for me. I hadn't realized until last week that the music was done by the same composer & lyricist team as La La Land. I hope they do more movie musicals in the future! And, as always, Hugh Jackman was a dream. I am so fond of him!

    Ok, now I'm off to plot when to see this again. I want to re-see Star Wars, and The Shape of Water finally made its way around here, yet I can't shake the feeling that I HAVE to see this one more time... :-)

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    1. Claire, I really want a repeat viewing myself. Definitely one that's going to be better on the big screen. Many movies, I don't care about big or small, but some like this just beg for bigness.

      I actually liked this better than Moulin Rouge, though I do like that movie a lot. This was a nicer, happier story, though, and... Hugh Jackman's one of my top 3 fave actors, so yeah, that boosted my love for it a lot.

      Jenny's solo was SUCH a good moment of character-building. She's telling you right then and there that she is insatiable, never satisfied, never content. It's like a huge warning flag that Barnum totally misses. Great storytelling, and a cool song too.

      Hope you can find a way to see it one more time! The great thing about January, around here anyway, is that not a lot of new movies come out, so I can often see and re-see things from December once the holidays are over.

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  6. Okay, I was already dying to see this movie, and your review clinched it. I. Can't. Wait. :D

    PS. I read Cloaked!!! I loved it! Here's a link to my review. :)
    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2113848567?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

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    1. Natalie, I hope you can see it soon!

      Awww, thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed Cloaked :-)

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  7. This is an incredible movie, one of my top favs of the year, even edging out Thor: Ragnarok which I LOVE! But there's something so special, upbeat, and encouraging about The Greatest Showman. I couldn't help but love it! I'm so happy you loved it as much as I did!

    Btw, I've recalibrated my blog back to Musings. I'm going to be active in the near year. I didn't realize how much I missed being me in the blogging world until I had stopped.

    Merry Christmas!

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    1. Carissa, wow! You definitely loved this one. Ragnarok still tops it for me, but that's because Ragnarok was one of those super-special-in-a-personal-way movies for me.

      Yay for more blogging from you in the future!!!

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  8. I hadn't even heard of this movie until about a month ago and now I can't stop hearing about it and how good it is. I may have to go see it. It looks fun and intriguing.

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    1. Lois, oh, it's just great! Super fun and with a good message too.

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  9. Nice review. I probably won't see the movie, but I enjoyed your take on it.

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    1. Thanks, Stanley! Glad you enjoyed reading this :-)

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  10. Thank you for the review; this movie is on my "Must-See" list. Tom

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    1. Tom, I hope you get to see it soon! It's definitely a "must-see" in my book.

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  11. First, thank you for giving this magical film the positive and love-filled review it deserves, and for using the perfect word to sum it up; a celebration. It has been on my radar since before the script was even written, or cast found, so seeing it in the cinema was a dream come true, and hallelujah it did not disappoint my pretty high expectations, even exceeding them at times (P.T and Phillip's The Other Side duet the prime example of a scene that had me smile gaping in surprised pleasure the whole time, and I was so happy to read you enjoyed their scenes together as much as I did!)

    Every single song was so wonderful in their own way however that trying to pick just one that I loved the most is next to impossible, though Rewrite the Stars comes pretty close. As the song I was excited for above any other, it was as gorgeous as I was hoping it would be. Anne and Phillip's evolving relationship was definitely my favourite aspect of this film, and my one regret is we didn't get to see more of them together! In fact, I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on their romance.

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    1. Anonymous, glad you enjoyed the movie too! And my review. My favorite song is "From Now On," which I almost have memorized after listening to the soundtrack a LOT these last few days.

      I liked Anne and Phillip's relationship a lot. I'd love a 3-hour version of this movie so they could develop both their relationship and P.T. and Charity's more, as there just wasn't time to show them more than a bit. But I found both love stories to be believable and charming in what we do get to see.

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