The Greatest Bullshitter

For a few days now, my analysis of my enjoyment of The Greatest Showman has run through my mind. My commute runs about 40 minutes in each direction, so I have ample time to slip into my familiar pattern of overthinking (scratch that: deep thinking, as my therapist would suggest). Despite this pondering, I’m still not sure where I fall on this issue. Let me attempt to unravel some of this for you…

Merely one week ago, I purchased The Greatest Showman to watch with my eldest child. We had rented it the previous weekend and discovered both of us were enthusiastically enthralled. (I hesitated on that final word choice, looked it up, and found an archaic definition: enslaved. That sounds right…) I allowed myself to immerse myself into that loveliness. I bought the album and listened to it daily. I temporarily lost my mind like a teenager with a celebrity crush. Call it my midlife crisis.

I didn’t really have a problem with any of this until a couple things happened: I “accidentally” read some reviews after-the-fact, which made it sound, essentially, like you’d have to have had a lobotomy to love this flaming pile of shit so much. And then I began to reflect upon the story itself, since so many critics decried both the sullying of P.T. Barnum’s legacy with this humbug, as well as the lack of deep delving into the characters so that they would flesh out and become more real. I questioned my sanity. I doubted my life choices. I thought perhaps I wasn’t fit to raise children, since I clearly have awful taste in entertainment. Then I said fuck it to the critics and came to my own conclusions.

  • I don’t give a shit that it’s fictionalized. In fact, it’s better for that. If I wanted to watch the real life story of old fart P.T. Barnum, ringmaster, I’d watch a documentary. Yeah, he was born in Connecticut. Yeah, he was even a Connecticut politician. Know what I don’t want to watch in a musical? Connecticut politicians. If you’re going to make a movie of it, make it good. Make it Wolverine singing his heart out while there’s so much going on in the background that your head hurts trying to keep up. Make it a whir of color, a cacophony of sound, and a ragtag group creating an illusion that’s absolutely mesmerizing. It’s supposed to be a circus. Go big, or go home.
  • I could probably sit down and watch 1 1/2 hours of Zac Efron and Zendaya singing and performing aerial feats. And I had a rather unfavorable opinion of Zac Efron before this explosive piece of awesomeness. I want to see the pretty people do the hard work, because aerials absolutely are hard work. My eldest took trapeze and aerials classes for a year and I know what goes into learning those poses. It’s not eating pizza and sitting on the couch. I’m all the more impressed by the fact that there weren’t stunt doubles. So sing on, little birdies. I’m loving every minute of it.
  • I insist that Hugh Jackman worked a spell on me through the screen. I was so confused by Wolverine’s range in dancing and singing that I didn’t pay attention at all to how truly awful of a person he plays. I love him. I want to make him my 2nd husband. And I wouldn’t do that for just anyone–I mean, really, one husband is more than enough. Barnum the character is a swindler. He uses stolen titles from his former job to leverage a loan to open a business based entirely on spectacle and lies. He gathers a group of outcasts and makes them even more outrageous to fill his coin purse. He claims to hate the upper class, but can’t wait to be welcomed by them and accepted by society. He turns his back on his “freaks” to save face with the snobs. He runs away with his opera songbird and while it isn’t explicitly explored, you know there’s some shagging going on. Why else would her heart be so broken that she attempts to ruin him? And then, suddenly, when it all burns down around him, he realizes he’s been an ass and turns his life completely around. It’s a combination of so many things in narcissistic, borderline men taking advantage of others that should be triggering for me. And yet… All he has to do is smile and I’m like, okay, you do you, Hugh. BUT…bear with me…there’s also the theatre part of this. The fact that he’s a performer, playing a role that suits him. In The Other Side, he makes this pretty clear as he’s trying to deal Mr. High School Musical into his game. He’s going to do like he does, and with Carlyle doing like he does, they’re going to convince the crowds to part with some coin to make them both rich. You know. Like an actor does. In a play, a movie, a musical… You’re paying for entertainment, and lies come with that. It’s all a con. Have you never seen a magician perform an illusion? We welcome this experience. I can live with that.
  • I got a little lost there… I think I’m saying that it’s okay that Barnum (the character) is less than honest with his Museum because people expect him to do so. It’s part of the unwritten contract between audience and entertainer. Suspend disbelief and you win. CGI certainly makes that easier. This is different than politicians who hoodwink the masses with promises of whatever will make them say I like him because he tells it like it is because Barnum (the character) is fake and we should all be adult enough to recognize that, and these politicians are…oh, fake and we should all be adult enough to recognize that. I guess there isn’t a difference other than what Hugh do won’t affect my ability to obtain quality health care and be treated somewhat like an equal to men.
  • I WANT an escape. Please. 2018 is kind of a shitty time in history. Give me something lavish and lush to lose myself in for a little while. Thank you.
  • I had a really cool segue into Curly and Oklahoma! (which, I will admit, is very loosely inspired by the fact that it’s the only musical in which I’ve performed on a “big” community theatre stage and critics called our particular production a “3-ring circus”), but when I sought more details to fill in the blanks 25 years hence have created, I was side tracked by the image of a DVD cover on Wikipedia of Hugh Jackman as Curly from the 1999 film version of the 1998 London revival of Oklahoma!. My worlds unexpectedly collided. Wolverine. Music. Dance. I lost my train of thought. I can’t remember my point now. Damn that magical man.
  • Do you fault the cotton candy for not being caviar? Of course not.

I’m going to do me. You do you. And maybe we’ll meet on the other side. It’s all good.


2 thoughts on “The Greatest Bullshitter

  1. I fell hard for this musical and so did my kids. We listen to the soundtrack all the time and have watched the film more times in the last two weeks than I want to admit to. And I agree with your analysis (except the shagging — I truly believe she wanted it but there was none). I would also add that I already knew a fair amount about Barnum, and knew this was fiction. That doesn’t bother me — it was such lovely escapist entertainment!


    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a mad crush on this film! I accept your dissent on the shagging. It really could go either way and maybe I just want to read it as dirty since the rest of the film is so darn sparkling clean. 😉


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