Ben Oliver

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The Greatest Showman

I like ‘circus’
28 September 2018

A musical biopic of P.T. Barnum, the American showman known for his circus.

Off the bat this conveniently misses out the parts about Barnum which shine less favourably on his life. I’m going to quote wikipedia1 here:

He began his career as a showman in 1835 when he was 25 with the purchase and exhibition of a blind and almost completely paralyzed slave woman named Joice Heth, whom an acquaintance was trumpeting around Philadelphia as George Washington’s former nurse and 161 years old. Slavery was already outlawed in New York, but he exploited a loophole which allowed him to lease her for a year for $1,000, borrowing $500 to complete the sale. Heth died in February 1836, at no more than 80 years old. Barnum had worked her for 10 to 12 hours a day, and he hosted a live autopsy of her body in a New York Saloon where spectators paid 50 cents to see the dead woman cut up, as he revealed that she was likely half her purported age.

This is a bizarrely peppy and feel-good film for a man who lived a controversial and complicated life. The truth would have been a much more interesting tale to tell. It’s like making a documentary about OJ Simpson but missing the murder part.

If we look past the abuse of artistic licence, The Greatest Showman still has little to offer. Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron are talented performers and the production value is high but none of these elements come together to make anything worthwhile.

For a musical about diversity, showmanship and entertainment The Greatest Showman is almost offensively bland. Director Michael Gracey seems more at home directing a series of short music videos rather than trying to put together any sort of story.

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