This movie will make a great musical and I did enjoy it and I definitely have listened to the soundtrack so much I probably make up 1/3 of the listens. And I will go into what I enjoyed in a bit but I’m gonna go with the negatives first.
First, Hugh Jackman mumble sings and I can’t understand him. He needs diction in his lower register. I sat through the first number and was like, man, I am really going to like this song once I look up the lyrics to figure out what in the world he was saying. The guy was great in the role, probably was the right man for the job, but I feel like I started the movie disappointed and never fully recovered.
For all the background I got on Barnum and his problems I cared about “meh” for whether he succeeded. At the end of the movie I got the feeling that the only reason I was invested in him is because he allowed me to have the other characters. If the movie had been about any of the other members of his crew I would have liked it a whole lot more. In most ways he was the least interesting person in the whole story. Give me the story of the Wheeler siblings. How did they get to be so talented in a world that led them to worry that they wouldn’t get the job because of their race. Give me a plot around why Lettie Lutz didn’t shave. Goodness, give me Phillip Carlyle before he gave up everything he’d ever know to embrace a life and a love that his parents cut ties with him over so that when he makes his choices later in the movie it doesn’t feel obvious and easy.
I want that level of detail because I loved the plots those characters were part of. If you too were skeptical of the romantic pairing of Zac Efron and Zendaya then it will be even more enjoyable to see that story play out. I’m pretty convinced at this point that these two could build chemistry with literally any actor. They handled the prejudices of the time in a way that allowed their side plot to help build the world. Many of the cast had similar types of short pieces that allowed us to know them a little bit more while being exposed to the realities of their world. We got a full picture of how the world worked without a bunch of newspaper headline montages (not that those weren’t used, and now I’m realizing that maybe I hate this cliché but that is for a later date) or a cacophony of overhead conversations as we pan across the street that just happen to mention the social stratification and the situations with the banks etc, etc, etc.
The soundtrack is a delight and is probably the only thing about this movie that is good enough to deserve to win/be nominated for rewards (maybe costuming as well). The songs don’t feel forced into the flow of the story and most of them don’t even feel like they are singing plot for the sake of having another number on the score (and the ones that are great for bathroom breaks because, again, I don’t care at all about his marriage or his feelings).
Verdict: You don’t really need to see it in theaters but it’s not half bad. Could you skip it, yeah. Was I underwhelmed by it after all of the glowing reviews, yes. But if you need something that is family friendly, not a rom-com or driving/action flick, and has a sing-a-long version then this movie will likely suffice.
Sidenote: Hugh Jackman needs to stop thanking me for going to see his movies in a theater. It literally is making 0% difference in my choice of when I go and when I wait.