Before I book a movie ticket, I usually check the rating on both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. If the IMDB score is high, I factor in how big the film franchise is to give a lower weightage in my head to the IMDB score in the initial days as I assume most votes are from die hard fans who would vote only one way. I believe I’ve got it down to a science. Of course you might disagree with my choices but judging solely by how happy I am coming out of a movie theater after paying for that overpriced ticket, my system is pretty sound.
Usually, my system keeps me far away from any movie that says ‘musical’ in the description. The aversion started with the 2011 Ralph Fiennes & Gerard Butler movie ‘Coriolanus’, which my roommate and I went to with great expectations. We had seen just a trailer and it looked bad-ass. My roomie got an extra large tub of popcorn and we settled in for what looked like a good movie which started with Gerard Butler sharpening a knife while watching the news on TV. A little later, Ralph Fiennes started giving a speech to his army and started off with what sounded like a Shakespearean quote. Slightly weird but we rolled with it, only the Shakespeare quotes never stopped. For the rest of the movie, both the lead actors kept talking in Shakespearean prose to each other and everyone around them, talking about how they will ‘smite thee down with my sword’ or about the sound of war-drums while wearing Kevlar and shooting machine guns. My roomie forgot all about the popcorn and we just kept asking ‘what the fuck is this’ to each other for 2 hours. We were so mystified we thought of asking the theatre folks if they put the wrong audio track on. Even after the movie we had to Google it to finally believe this was actually what was intended. And the worst thing was all the critic reviews praising the movie. The Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus says: “Visceral and visually striking, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context“. It was about as fitting and relevant as the middle aged uncle next door suddenly speaking only in hip-hop rap would be. Technically I guess Coriolanus wasn’t a musical, but I don’t know what the fuck else to call it. After watching it I decided I’m never watching a Hollywood movie in which people don’t speak in normal English. My resolve was further strengthened when I asked my roomie how another musical he watched with his girlfriend was and he just said ‘Man. Hugh Jackman….Wolverine singing and dancing… WTF”
Although, I generally avoid musicals like the plague but went to this one seeing 8 in IMDB and more importantly because my better half insisted that she wants to see a movie. Also when I saw the trailer, it looked like they weren’t always talking in song or limerick. I was still quite surprised that we both loved the movie. From my limited musical watching experience, this was the first time Hollywood actors didn’t look utterly ridiculous breaking into song and dance at every turn. Frankly, I always thought that’s something we have perfected in Bollywood and Indian movies in general. We can have song and dance in serious movies without looking ridiculous, if you discount those old Karishma Kapoor songs and Govinda’s entire career. Hollywood efforts at blending songs into the movie always seemed to be an epic fail, with actors looking about as comfortable singing and dancing as you would feel if asked to jive at a priest’s funeral. Not Hugh Jackman though. Imagine the talent this guy has if he can exhibit visceral brutality in ‘Logan’ and then deliver an uplifting performance as a circus showman in this. He pranced around the screen as if Karan Johar was pulling his puppet strings and he had Bhai’s fans cheering along. Like how do you do that after living and breathing a role like Wolverine for decades? I was always of the opinion that the Wolverine role was a waste of Hugh Jackman’s talent. True, he fit the role perfectly but except for Logan, none of the movies really gave him enough leeway to showcase his true potential as an actor.
The story is loosely based on the life of P.T Barnum, and implies that this was how the circus was started. I’m not sure if that is true but the tale of a man from humble origins assembling a bunch of outcasts and oddballs to make the greatest show on earth and simultaneously giving them a place in the world where they are treated as equals definitely made for a good story. In a style very similar to bollywood, songs are artfully placed in the narrative without looking odd and have some superb production values. This is the first time I remember looking for the movie album for a Hollywood movie, something we are very used to doing for Hindi movies. Nearly every song is worth adding to your playlist, but I recommend you see the visuals first. They are simply beautiful.
Critics have apparently panned ‘The Greatest Showman’, but if you ask me, critics seem to completely lose the plot when reviewing comic book movies and musicals. Its like being told modern art should make you cry. Most of the time you are just confused and wonder what the hell they are talking about.
The only time anyone said ‘What the fuck’ in this movie was when the intermission screen stopped a beautiful song right before the end, but luckily when it started again they rewinded a bit and gave us a mini-encore.
If you’re having a slow new years eve or new year’s day, I strongly recommend you watch this movie and load up the soundtrack on your music player.
Edit: After further reading, it looks like the real P.T Barnum was probably a horrible person who exploited people and indulged in the slave trade and his circus probably abused animals too. None of that takes away from the movie but please don’t take it for a true historical account.