This is a film I was going to give a miss in cinema: however seeing how highly recommended it had been and the fact that I had someone to go with who really wanted to watch it eventually tipped the balance. I’m pleased to say that I was positively surprised with the outcome of the film and felt that the criticisms I held before the film were generally harsh and unfounded.
Synopsis- Loosely based, and I mean very loosely, on P.T. Barnum’s circus this film begins with young Barnum as an aid to his dad who is effectively a servant/ tailor for the father of the girl he loves. Following the death of his father, young Barnum sleeps out on the streets craving food and a generally better life. However, the one thing that ties him back to his old life is the letters he send’s and receives to/from Charity the daughter of his Dad’s boss. We then cut forward in time to meet Barnum as an adult with: two daughters, Charity as his wife and visions of something bigger and better. On the night of one of daughter’s birthdays, he realises that he needs to set up a show of interesting things for the public to see. However, when dead stuff doesn’t work he turns to people; people with all manner of weird and wonderful talents to draw in the crowds. But putting these people on stage draws strong opposition. Will he be able to maintain his dream, while fighting against the rising storm?
Positives- This film is a musical and to start this off I loved the songs. Although to me they weren’t quite as catchy as those from La La Land last year, I really enjoyed them and felt that they carried the vast majority of the emotion heft that this film carried. With all of the main characters given the opportunity to sing, it seemed very passionate and exciting when they did and the way it explained the story was almost like having a musical narrator. I loved the performance by Hugh Jackman as I thought it was easy to empathise with his situation and he was an easy person to imagine as the first “showman” as he encompasses the role head on. Also I would like to say that Michelle Williams as Charity Barnum is fantastic, but to be honest when isn’t she. Finally on the positive side I liked that a number of characters had arcs and not just the main protagonists, although that is where it is most obvious in this film.
Negatives- Although character development was good and the songs were excellent, the actual narrative structure of the film was lacking. It seemed to jump around from a number of different ideas rather than choosing one main plot point to stick with. Initially Barnum’s struggles and the birth of an idea are the focus, which is great: but after that we get fed little parts of a number of sub plots that mean we don’t fully engage with anyone. This left me unnecessarily emotionally detached from the film; which was disappointing as I felt it was great in a number of different ways. Also I found the end a little haphazard and actually pretty nonsense, which was a shame because it put a bad taste in my mouth at the end of what I thought was a very good film.
Conclusion- I thought it was a very interesting film that had real, shooting highs and pretty terrible lows. However when I came out of the film I felt better than going in, so, it did its job as a feel good film.
Which just misses out on my top 3 of the year.