Friday, February 23, 2018

The Greatest Showman obviously . P.T. Who? Just kidding, but seriously, there's no way this movie would have existed without Hugh Jackman. He is the first and last exceptional thing about this snappy, peppy, and colorful period musical.

The man puts his all into everything he does. A true entertainer.

Jackman is P.T. Barnum, the guy who invented freak shows and curiosity hoaxes. This movie puts him in a much kinder light, presenting him as a dreamer who just wants to put a smile on everyone's face. What they're smiling at might be fake, but the smiles are real! His more greedy side comes through whether it was meant to or not when he calls the "freaks" who work for him his friends in private, but shoos them away in public; and when he goes on tour with a beautiful opera star for no apparent reason. The movie makes out that he's innocent in the situation, but it makes me wonder.

How much is true? How must isn't? I don't know, so I'll set that aside, and review this as if it were all fiction. I imagine that's the accurate assumption to make. It all has a very fantastic feel anyway, as its set vaguely in the 1800's and all the music is super modern, which translates to the dancing styles, and then even seeps into the plot bit. It's a natural thing for a musical to do, but I would have felt more at home watching it on stage. It was like it was set in the period only because it had to be, but it certainly did make for some grand and lovely (however inaccurate) costuming.

Who'd've ever thought that Zac would return to his roots someday and sing manly duets with Hugh Jackman?

The songs are musical pop, and every single one is incredibly catchy and toe-tapping-inducing. They don't much vary in style or general structure, so the easiest way to define them is the scene and dance each accompanied. My favorite was the bar duet between Jackman and -- a society man who joins Barnum's business to the detriment of his societal respect. The dancing on tables and swapping shots between verses was like something out of a classic musical of ye olden days.

That's what surprised me the most. I've never hated Efron or anything, but I've never respected him all that much either. But he was great in this, and strangely seems to have both grown up, and embraced his debatably embarrassing origins of cheesy song and dance and melodramatic romance. This movie has all three of those things for him, but now he just owns it, and it's not cringy or overdone, but just a lot of fun. I enjoyed what they had of romance with him and 's character, who's a trapeze artist in Barnum's circus. They spend a lot of time focusing on how this was a time when interracial couples were frowned on, and I wished they'd gone a bit deeper than that, but it was a sweet side plot. Their duet that used ropes and acrobatic choreography was one of the movie's best.

About as basic a romance as they come, but classic.

I appreciated that scene a lot because it was the one time the showcased dancing felt truly circus-y. Whenever the circus performances were going on, it was a whole lot of very fun and entertaining dancing, but not much of the freaky or requiring unusual talent. Not that it bored me, but I did wonder why we never saw a significant amount of trapeze performance. Or contortionists. Or a guy who bites head off of chickens. You know -- circus stuff. (Ok, I can see the reasoning behind the chicken thing.) The talent they had was singers and dancers that looked different. There was a tall guy, there was a fat guy, there was a bearded lady; and they were dancers so that's what they did.

So I missed the expected performance moments of "Wow, how in the world did that person DO that?" And don't get me wrong, I was thoroughly entertained, but there was an expectation there, and they failed to meet it. Same with 's character, the opera star. As she was about to sing the first time, I was thinking, "Wow, Rebecca Ferguson is going to sing opera?" But then she didn't. It was belted musical pop just like everything else. I don't remember if the song was good; my main impression was that the style was a let-down. It's just mismanaged expectations.

And to be fair, it's likely that my idea of Barnum's circus is every bit as different from the truth as this movie's is.

Something I should have expected was that the plot was very skimpy and I was dying for more. One moment would be great for a character, and get my hopes up, but then go no further. And that's the traditional way of the musical, but in my defense, they did try to associate themselves with La La Land (they boast the same lyricists) and La La Land explored character through and around the music to a satisfying depth -- but that aspect didn't cross over. Instead they did a normal amount of character for the genre, and it often veered towards being too modernly "relevant" for my taste. Still, I'll take the blame for my dissatisfaction on that one.

An eventual second viewing (which may happen for that one bar scene duet) would likely improve enjoyment, with accurate expectations. Where my expectations were met, all was excellent as advertised. Mainly in two points: First, Hugh Jackman, who from the first beat to the very last, oozes entertaining and immaculately sharp showmanship. The guy is a performer, and a charmer, and he does his job WELL. And secondly, the visual dazzle, which was equally as on point as Jackman. There's always something to see that is pleasing to the eye, even in the stiller talking scenes, and the visual brilliancy of the dance scenes often left me smiling.

The pep is contagious.

Watching this movie for me was like an exercise in the art of smiling at awesome things while simultaneously rolling eyes as silly things. There was about an equal amount of both, and little in between. It's a spectacle worth the sight, if only to be lightly entertained by Hugh and a bunch of other performers who are clearly having a grand time. And though many of the tricks are cheap and fake, I suppose it's true: the smiles are for real.

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