The Greatest Showman Review (from a Catholic Perspective)

the greatest showman review catholic

I once read somewhere, that next to silence, music is the only thing that can come close to expressing the inexpressible.

This is certainly true in my life. I love music. I love the way in which a melody can match moods, provide company when you’re feeling lonely, and enhance the experiences of your day.

The first time I saw a movie trailer for The Greatest Showman, I was hooked. I knew this was a movie I wanted to see in theatres. Usually I like to wait until the DVD has been released because I can rent a film for about one tenth of what I would pay at the box office. However, the glitz, the glam, and (of course) the music made me “anxious-excited” for the day I could finally go see it.

Casting & Characters

Thanks to Hugh Jackman’s starring role as P.T. Barnum, my husband (who is not a fan of musicals) was actually looking forward to coming with me. I was also pleasantly surprised by the talent of Michelle Williams (who portrays Mrs. Charity Barnum), as I had no idea that she had any musical abilities. She definitely held her own against Hugh Jackman – which is no small feat!

After a decade of avoiding movies full of song and dance, Zac Efron also made a return to musicals for the film, even learning a little trapeze for a scene with his character’s love interest. For obvious reasons, Efron had been trying to avoid the musical genre out of fear of type-casting. However, when he was approached about playing Barnum’s business partner, Phillip Carlyle, and was given the opportunity to read the film’s script, he knew he wanted to be a part of this project.

The Greatest Showman: A Brief Synopsis

The movie begins with Barnum as a young boy. The son of a poor tailor, his greatest possession is his incredible imagination. His best friend is a young girl named Charity, the daughter of one of the wealthier men in town. Thinking Barnum to be a bad influence, Charity’s father sends her away to finishing school. The friends keep in touch by writing letters, and when they are both old enough, Charity leaves her wealth behind and happily marries Barnum.

Time passes. They both work hard but are still very poor. They have two daughters at the time when Barnum unexpectedly loses his job. Tired of boring jobs, Barnum tricks the bank into loaning him an obscene amount of money and he buys a museum of wax figures. While the museum is full of stuffed exotic creatures, the Barnum family struggles to find customers.

The Idea

One night, his daughters tell Barnum that he has too many dead things in his museum. This sparks the idea to recruit all sorts of “unique persons” to be a part of his show. Having lived on the outskirts of society himself, and knowing what it is like to be looked down upon by others, Barnum offers a safe-haven for these individuals, giving them a salary, as well as a place to call home and a new family to share it with.

Quickly, business booms. Society is intrigued and enthralled by uniqueness of the show, but there are also many critics. One in particular refers to Barnum’s endeavors as a “circus”; Barnum likes that so much that he begins to use it as the name for his show.

Though Barnum has become rich and his employees have found a new home, there are still incredible struggles. Barnum continues to be seen as the kooky son of the town tailor, and though they all buy tickets, nobody in the upper class takes Barnum seriously. For this reason, Barnum recruits the help of Phillip Carlyle (Efron), an elite producer from a prominent family.

Dream Team

Carlyle brings a lot to the show, and his production capabilities help the circus to continue to grow. There comes a point when Barnum’s Circus has become so famous that even Queen Victoria is intrigued and asks them to travel to London for an audience. It is while they are there that Barnum meets Jenny Lind, the famous European Opera singer. Tired of being accused that all the acts he sells to the public are fake, he offers to bring Jenny Lind to America for a tour across the country. For reasons of her own, Jenny Lind can relate to the feelings of being an outsider and thus is attracted to Barnum’s endeavors, agreeing to his proposition.

Sadly, what started out as a somewhat noble endeavor to provide a better life for his family and a place for society outcasts to belong, Barnum begins to lose sight of what is most important. He begins to chase and chase and chase acceptance by society, thinking that whatever his next addition is will bring about that honor and praise. He becomes selfish, and neglectful of his wife, his daughters, his business partner, and his circus family… and his downward spiral makes it evident that he is going to lose everything he built and everyone he ever cared for.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, so I’ll simply end it in this manner. The premiere song of the movie is “This is the Greatest Show” and the words of the chorus are:

It’s everything you ever want / It’s everything you ever need /And it’s here right in front of you…

These words are definitely used as a foreshadowing for the rest of the movie.

Final Thoughts on The Greatest Showman

The movie moves at a quicker pace that reminds me more of a play than a film, and it was actually not what I expected. However, I mean this in a good way! I thought this was going to be a story about dreams, perseverance, and acceptance, and while all those aspects of truth are included in the film, they are not its main focus.

Throughout the entire film, I was most struck by the relatability of Barnum’s character. How often to we start with good intentions in our lives and then let things go to far? We start out by doing the right thing and then forget to do the right thing for the right reasons. I am certainly guilty of this. Too often I lose sight of what’s most important; it’s in our fallen human nature to do so.

For this reason, I think The Greatest Showman would make a great family movie. Not only is it flashy, exciting, and somewhat mesmerizing, but it provides a great foundation for so many life lessons. Aside from a little trickery by Barnum, all Catholic virtues are portrayed and upheld, especially the value of the human person and the importance of family.

Have you seen The Greatest Showman? What did you think?! Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by Grace Bellon, lover of bearded men, rich coffee, cheesy puns, cuddly doggies, and Catholicism. You can find out more about her here (warned ya she liked cheesy puns).

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  • Reply
    February 6, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you for this review! My husband and I love going to the movies and this was on our radar but not a top contender. Now I can’t wait to share your review with him and see this movie next! Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Kathryn Casey
    March 8, 2018 at 11:33 am

    I was disappointed that this review “from a Catholic perspective” did not touch on how this romanticized version of Barnum relates to the historical facts of his life. Whether or not his real-life actions have any bearing on an entertaining musical should at least be considered.

    • Reply
      Grace Bellon
      March 12, 2018 at 10:35 am

      Hi Kathryn! I’m Grace, the author of this review. While the historical inaccuracies did not escape my eye (I was actually really surprised there wasn’t more backlash from activists groups and such), my focus simply shifted away from that for two reasons.
      1. I used to feel crippling guilt anytime I watched any film or show with any amount of inaccuracy– whether moral, historical, spiritual… whatever! It was part of a bigger issue I had. Once, in confession, the priest showed me a great mercy. He told me that to be “in the world, but not of it” does not mean we cannot partake of anything secular. Rather, its to think about “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). He told me to see the good that’s within these films — not turning a blind eye to what’s wrong about it, but simply focusing my attention to what is actually life-giving. So that’s my tendency now. I was focused elsewhere than the historical aspect, since it wasn’t being presented as a historical film.
      2. While I do agree that the historical inaccuracies are definitely questionable, it’s simply another perspective. Each person has their own lens through which they first see, prioritize and absorb what’s in front of them. A true, all-inclusive Catholic perspective would have a lot to add to the review. Unfortunately, blog posts are restricted when it comes to word count, thus we had to pick and choose which concepts to include. Based on limited space, my experiences/tendencies mentioned above, and that the script was inspired partially by Barnum’s story, but more so his imagination, and the fact that I did not view the historical inaccuracies as any major threat, we finalized the post as seen above.

      Hope this makes sense to you dear sister! Any exclusions from the review were not meant to keep anything about the film in the dark! I hope you have a “blessed” day! 😉

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