Ages ago I started seeing the trailers for The Greatest Showman. Hugh Jackman as PT Barnum in a period piece. Huh. I didn’t know it was a musical and I didn’t consider watching it.
I’ve never given P.T. Barnum much thought. A sucker born every minute. Except that he never said that, apparently.
Barnum did say – as an anti-slavery activist: ”A Human soul that God created and Christ died for is not to be trifled with.”
Art evokes feelings. It transmits ideas and emotion from the creator to the viewer. The movie that Hugh Jackman got made did that. I’ve been a risk-addict for a long time, right?
1. Love And Loyalty Are The Soul Of Meaning Barnum takes an immense amount of risks and goes all in a few times. His wife goes right with him. He betrays her by not telling her about one of his schemes. This was a pivotal point of our film, and a lesson our imperfect mongrel hero needed to learn.
2. You’ll Get Knocked Down. A few times in the movie PT Barnum loses nearly everything. He goes all in.
3. Joy is Purpose Enough. It’s hard not to leave without a smile on your face. Music, dance. It was an escape for sure, but a good one.
4. Critics Happen. In something of a perfect metaphor, this film has the widest gap of the year between how critics and audiences felt about it. Second, PT Barnum is criticized in the film by the public and by James Gordon Bennett, the voice of the fancy people. He bears up against unrelenting pressure and still tries.
5. Wonder Happens: Barnum’s children provide inspiration and a gasping sense of wonder. One day when Barnum comes home, he gives his daughter some type of Victorian-era disco ball and that wonder is enough for a long while. I’ve felt that before, when I got to see New York with my kid (and more importantly, through his eyes).
6. Musicals Don’t Need To Suck: I’ve felt like Broadway has been uselessly preachy for too long. RENT. Hamilton. Both well done, but without lightness. This one just brought the joy. The fucking joy.
7. It takes a million dreams to get one off the ground. (‘nuff said).
8. It’s Enough to Celebrate The Good A Person Rendered To The World. Shakespeare famously said, “The good that men do is oft interred with their bones.” Barnum put a smile on faces. He had a checkered career for sure. But this was a celebration of what he did right. Similarly, with America, we have our warts. But we have moved the arc of history towards liberty more than any other nation.
9. Without Family, What’s The Point? The gift of family has been the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Barnum takes solace in his own families when times get tough. Sweeter wins & bearable defeats.
10. Strong Art Summarizes Complex Feelings: The people that loved, championed and recommended this movie were almost all entrepreneurs. The terrain is risk around family and allof the things that I’ve felt have been in here. The summary statement was strong.
11. You Can Find and Celebrate Your Gifts. Barnum gets a rag-tag band of curiosities and goonies on his side. These were all misfits. Freaks. Yet all of them had gifts for the world to see and moments where they got to shine.
12. There’s No Need To Debate Your Critics. James Gordon Bennet delivers some harsh blows to Barnum. Hits home in only the way an adroit embittered critic can. Barnum is gracious and kind and subdued with his responses.
13. You Can Leverage Your Critics. Bennett delivers a particularly harsh review. Barnum reprints it as an advertisement and puts it in every paper everywhere.
14. Heroes Aren’t Perfect. There’s a time when Barnum lets down – and betrays – his circus family, and also his real family. He doesn’t let them come into a blue-blood reception for Jenny Lind. That doesn’t make him less of a hero.
15. When You Love Them, People Will Forgive You. He’s shown them love throughout the movie. He had an “emotional bank account” full of
16. Living Things Beat Dead Things. The key point was when he pivoted from a wax-figure museum to a performance and celebration of misfits.
17. You’ll Need To Pivot. Speaking of pivot: Barnum’s first attempt at his movie fails. He doesn’t sell tickets and he’s got a lot of risk happening in his world.
18. You’ll Never Be Accepted By Everyone. The movie – which has been adored by the box office – has been criticized for ignoring all of its history.
19. Word of Mouth Wins: This movie has continued to grind in the box office. The opening weekend numbers were scary. It looked like a flop. But it stuck around. Word of mouth created true believers. For comparison, it’s stayed in theaters a LONG time, outlasting (not outgrossing) The Last Jedi and so many other movies. It was trending for $90 million, and has done $161 million so far, having record-breaking staying power. (I can proudly say that $100 of that belongs to my family).
20. Lightness Wins: The previous movie that Hugh Jackman made was Logan. That was a beautifully done horrifically dark comic book movie. I liked it at the time. But having watched this one makes me wonder if I’m not mostly over dark movies and anti-heroes. A light-hearted movie made me leave it feeling happy and good.
21. You Can ReWrite The Stars: That’s what America is about. There are indeed second acts.Whatever the obstacles that are happening now, you can change your fate. This was the biggest story and a celebration of the (more alive than ever) American Dream. More people can rise than ever before.
Now, look, this movie isn’t perfect. It’s critics apparently went into it looking for a historical biopic wrought with true-life details. Rather than a tribute to a showman and a show to watch. They missed the point and manufactured their own disappointment. The key?
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be great. Neither do we.