I’ll admit: I’m biased. I love movie musicals. I love Hugh Jackman. I love Hugh Jackman’s singing. I love Zac Efron. I had already heard the soundtrack for this film and knew all the songs word-for-word before I even sat down at the cinema. So I went in, fully expecting to fall in love with the film, and I did — most of the time. I’ll watch it again and again.
The music was amazing, catchy, and so beautiful. The choreography — flawless, breathtaking (wish I had a hubs who would dance with me through the laundry sheets like Jackman and Williams did!) The costumes — dazzling. I sang along (internally) from start to finish.
The characters are… meh. Contains spoilers, duh.
Hugh Jackman plays the stereotypical rags-to-riches guy of P.T. Barnum, a character very loosely based on the historical figure, who had ideas above and beyond the expectations of society. From the start, it was obvious the audience was meant to be on his side: he was a poor boy who had big dreams; he was from a lower social class who didn’t let societal expectations limit his dreams or his love for Charity, his childhood sweetheart; he was orphaned at a young age, left to fend for himself. Considering how very unlike the actual P.T. Barnum Jackman’s version was, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been better they’d created a fictional character instead (considering Lettie Lutz, Philip Carlyle, and Annie Wheeler were all fictional anyway) and based it on Barnum’s creation of a freakshow instead. The main criticism I see from people with historical knowledge was how Jackman’s Barnum was portrayed in a positive light despite the real him being a manipulative racist who utilised ‘freaks’ to his own gain.
The music honestly made me cry. Everything about it was so perfect. From the children singing about their dreams to the big dance numbers — it was dazzling and mesmerising.
Despite knowing Barnum was the centre of the story, I couldn’t help but wonder if there could have been more focus on the ‘freaks’. Keala Settle’s Bearded Lady was a strong and enthusiastic member of the family and her voice blew me away. Her only moment to shine was when Barnum lost himself in the world of the upper class and shunned her along with the other rejects of society, but damn, was that number good. I honestly felt more and rooted more for the side characters than for Barnum himself, especially when Jenny Lind abandoned him after realising she was also being used for his climb to renown — boo hoo, poor Barnum, lost in the world of riches, abandoned by the very thing he lusted after.
Again, those knowledgeable with history will be iffy with this: Jenny Lind being portrayed as basically a homewrecker, one who lusted after Barnum as much as he did her despite knowing he was married, and blaming him — with a revenge kiss to boot — when he ‘came to his senses’. Personally, I don’t blame Lind. The onus was on Barnum, who knew he was married with children, who knew he had a circus depending on him, but he abandoned them all to make his big break. When it all fell to nothing, I had no sympathy for him — but every sympathy for the heartbroken Lind and even more for the circus folk, whose home had been burnt to nothing.
There are a few questionable logic areas in the story. The first one that struck me was when he married Charity. Considering he came from an impoverished, orphaned background, there was no way Charity, from a rich family, would be permitted to marry him. This was during a period when women were still commodity and black people were second-class citizens. Plus, her father specifically said to Barnum ‘She’ll come back’ — I’m pretty sure a failed marriage is a ruined family name. So the marriage wouldn’t have been approved in the first place and Charity’s family would never have allowed her to come back to bring shame upon them all.
Another occasion was how P.T. somehow singled out Zac Efron’s Peter Carlyle from across a crowded room. Jenny Lind caught his eye because she was beautiful, but Carlyle was just another uppity well-to-do young man in a sea of other equally uppity well-to-do folks. And yet Barnum saw him and knew he would be the right chosen apprentice?
Despite these criticisms, I loved the film. Everything was breathtaking and you can almost ignore the ‘Wait a minute…’ moments. Michelle Williams makes an endearing supportive wife who wants for nothing despite living in poverty. Jackman makes a convincing, dedicated man who was distracted by and lost in the dazzling world of the rich. Efron and Zendaya have great chemistry, and even though their love story have very few lines, they gelled together so well I was rooting for them despite having little interest in romantic aspects of films.
Verdict: would totally pay to go watch it again. 5 stars.