I need to apologize.
Much like many of the characters that made up PT Barnum’s circus, my viewing experience with "The Greatest Showman" (starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Effron, Zendaya, and Michelle Williams) was a bit of an anomaly.
Maybe it was the soft spot I have for musicals, but I had wanted to see this film since I first viewed the trailer. From what the trailer could tell me, the film seemed to be a spectacle and the music sensational. The subject matter was appealing.
And then something strange happened. I entered the theater and sat down, and as the lights dimmed, I unexpectedly decided I was going to hate what I was about to see.
Before the show's opening number, I had assumed the music was going to be too cheesy. The content, too flashy. This would be just another “Mickey Mouse musical” (I am aware that Disney had nothing to do with the Greatest Showman, but with names like Effron and Zendaya attached, can you really blame me?).
Let me just go on record here and say this: I was dead wrong in my last-minute, change-of-heart opinion.
First of all, the music. My goodness, the music.
"The Greatest Showman" opens with the song “The Greatest Show,” and doesn’t take many musical breaks until the film’s final curtain.
While musicals can sometimes be overwhelming, in this case, the music is a fantastic blend of performance and story progression with nothing that really feels like filler. It was entertaining enough for me to warrant buying the soundtrack, which I did.
Showman features 11 musical numbers, to which I can admit I was fully invested in 10 (“Tightrope,” sung by Williams’s Charity Barnum, was a little too sappy for my taste).
Out of those 11, the show’s absolute, without-a-doubt showstopper is “This is Me,” fronted by Keala Settle who plays bearded lady Lettie Lutz.
"The Greatest Showman" also did something for me that a movie hasn’t done in a long time: I found myself fully invested, pulling for characters, celebrating their victories and agonizing in their defeats.
While a more sophisticated and experienced movie critic (I am, at my core, a journalist and by no means a serious critic) might say that any potential positive message was lost in the extreme panache, I couldn’t disagree more.
The film is a story of acceptance, whether that be through Barnum’s rags to riches narrative, the blooming star-crossed lovers, or the “freaks” that flank the show’s front man.
Don’t get me wrong, Jackman gives a very entertaining and engaging performance in his portrayal of Barnum. He is a very strong center to the already star-stacked cast.
But I’ll take this opportunity to apologize for immediately looping Zendaya and Effron back into their Disney Channel fame.
Effron and Zendaya provide the love angle for the film, and their chemistry is undeniable. As I previously admitted, I was convinced that these two former Disney stars would ham up the show and be the movie’s weak link.
Instead, they provided one of my favorite sequences in the entire 105 minutes. Much to my surprise (and a little to my chagrin), they stole the show for me.
And my darling “freaks.” The oddballs.
There are several of these characters, though only a few get any kind of true development, and even that is minimal. While this could be perceived as a bad thing, instead I almost see it as a strength.
Instead of several characters with fleshed out backstories and growth, the oddities of Barnum’s show feel more like a singular unit. This keeps a story with three arcs already from becoming too cluttered. It also gives a strong banner to stand behind for those of us moviegoers who have ever felt misplaced, odd, or underappreciated.
Please forgive me for attempting to be an old curmudgeon movie critic. "The Greatest Showman" is a spectacle in its own right, featuring a lovable cast and extraordinary music. It’s a feel-good movie worthy of a round of applause.