Update: This article was written in late December and published in early January 2018, prior to the film's global success.
Film critics who have panned The Greatest Showman may want to sit down and hold a beer or two, whilst this movie does what no critic can do—inspire millions of people and make a tonne of money while doing it.
The Greatest Showman has a 53% Rotten Tomatoes score, while audiences have rated the movie 90% (January 2018). Whose truth should we believe?
The Greatest Showman is a dizzying and fantastic musical fairy-tale inspired by the life of P.T. Barnum; an entrepreneur and showman from the 19th Century who created Barnum's American Museum and became the founder of the circus. His visionary creativity inspired the concept of the circus and the heart of what show business is today.
Scored with soulful and joyfully addictive original music by Oscar® and Golden Globe-winning songwriting team, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; first-time feature Director Michael Gracey, succeeds in translating the story of P.T. Barnum for contemporary times by interweaving the human challenges of inclusion and acceptance—which continue to divide humanity on many global stages—into a universal format that leaves audiences singing and dancing.
Just wait for it—here come the viral Youtube videos, karaoke versions of every song, and the free marketing you cannot pay for. Trust me: it's coming...
After viewing the film and researching verified social media reactions from cinemagoers—the criticisms to date are tone deaf to the reality of how audiences are feeling about the movie, and the authenticity of the cast and key creatives.
Too often, the politics and agendas behind film reviews critically affect the rise or fall of a film in the press—due to power plays that have nothing to do with the merit of the work itself. Critics are busy trying to please their peers and to appear impressively intelligent, rather than seeking to actually understand the audience these films are catering to. That would require something else: empathy.
Remember, films are meant for audiences, not for executives and definitely not for critics. In order to understand what is happening in the zeitgeist, it requires a far more intuitive approach. It doesn't take a lot of intuition to realise that people are hungering for love, acceptance, and hope. That is what The Greatest Showman provides in spades.
As I left the cinema, I felt cheated by the reviews I read, which lead me to expect the worst. Instead, I left awestruck and sincerely on the edge of tears. Original film musicals are a rare breed and terrifically difficult to execute. The Greatest Showman is a big screen spectacular, that not only enlightens its audience—it captures the essence of the solutions the world is trying to create today, to bring humanity together.
What the Greatest Showman does is what successful talent shows have done—give people who haven't had a voice, some well-earned love and acceptance, within the format of the Hollywood dream that most kids have bought into: No matter who you are or where you come from, you too can make it and be somebody someday.
Love is simple. That seems to be what confuses critics attempting to analyse it in this movie. No, it is not a documentary film about P.T. Barnum. It is a fictionalised fantasy inspired by his life, that seeks only to uplift and unite us, during some of the darkest times humanity never expected to experience.
The only disappointment I felt in The Greatest Showman had nothing to do with the film. It was and still is the lack of critical praise for the talent of its new director, Michael Gracey. I believe he has a bright future ahead of him and he deserved a lot more praise from the press, than he has received. He's definitely one to watch.
With box office figures increasing after the initial drop, due to critical reviews, I do not doubt that—just like P.T. Barnum—the producers will have the last well-deserved laugh and triumph.
With just one widely read review, seven and a half years of work (the time it took to bring The Greatest Showman to the screen) can dissolve into a puff of smoke, before anyone has even laid eyes on a single frame of a film.
In a new study released this year by the Center for Study of Women in Television and Film, women made up only 22% of those considered, "Top critics" by Rotten Tomatoes and wrote only 18% of the reviews. So, unless you are a Caucasian male (the main demographic of their featured writers), you may want to consider trusting your own personal experience over movie reviewers from a bygone era, and define your next cinema-going experience, based on your own eyes and ears.
If you look beyond your nose, you may notice that this year the hallowed halls of power are crumbling, and with it, the status and influence of those who have moulded our culture and times from a place of entitlement and ego—rather than true service. To that end, I am not being paid or influenced in any way as I write this article in support of a film, that I believe is genuinely worth seeing.
Perhaps, what The Greatest Showman achieves in being muted by established critics, is a real-life reflection of the conflict in Western culture between the agenda of those in power and those who are daring to be different, in service to real people, and moving our culture forward.
For those who called this movie "fake", here’s what authenticity looks like:
Keala Settle is undoubtedly the break-out star of the film. Her radiance teaches us that the beauty of the human spirit comes from the heart. She empowers people to just be and accept themselves.
My next bet: Zendaya will be another star to watch. The theatre show version of The Greatest Showman has the potential to be bigger than the movie. What I don't doubt: the producers will be singing all the way to the bank, no matter what you think about the film.
The This is Me song-title from the The Greatest Showman soundtrack won an Oscar nomination, though it missed out on the big prize, which went to Coco's title track, Remember Me. They did win the Golden Globe for Best Original Song and the song went platinum—as announced by Hugh Jackman on Twitter:
Keala Settle sung Oscar-nominated This is Me at the 90th Academy Awards and received unanimous praise from audiences for delivering the night's favourite performance.
The Greatest Showman soundtrack has also remained on the Billboard charts for 10 weeks, becoming only the second album to remain in the No. 1 spot for that many consecutive weeks, in the last 30 years. You can now watch the movie online here.