I cannot talk about our presentation on Saturday evening without thanking everyone for a great turn out and making it a great evening. It’s very nice to receive so many compliments about our new patio, but it also makes us feel just a little bit smug. We’re very pleased with how it turned out, so to get so much validation from others is very pleasing. As Linda says, expect ‘Party Patio’ to be party central this summer…
I got something like a similar feeling of validation with The Greatest Showman. On first viewing last December, I had felt that the tale of a great showman who used fakery, bluster and larger than life spectacle to engage with his audience had delivered just that - an experience that was just a bit too big, fantastical and slick to have a genuine heart - hence, I called it ‘artificial’.
I admit that my second viewing was rather distracted by the prospect of thunderstorms in the air, and spent some time anxiously watching the distant flashes in the sky. We’d taken an ultimately successful gamble on the weather forecast, and perhaps with practice we are developing a keenness on how to interpret Accuweather’s radar. However, that did not fully account for the lack of chemistry I felt between me and the happenings on the screen.
As I tried to account for my personal disconnection, I realized that the individual elements that made up the movie were all very good indeed. The songs were all excellent, extremely emotive. The dancing set pieces were first class, full of the exotic and the spectacular, and the story moved along at a reasonable pace.
Then I realized that the one element which was ‘off’ for me was the emotion. It seemed obvious that a lot of engineering had gone into the building blocks of the movie - the songs were anthemic when they needed to be, then poignant and moving, or sentimental at just the right moment in the plot. In fact, considering this and the choreography, I am left with the feeling that the ‘emotional engineering’ is on display just too much. It wasn’t just the lightning in the sky that got in the way, it was the sense that the emotional path had been carefully plotted in a writer’s room rather than emerging organically from the performance that got in the way - for me - of a truly emotional reaction to what was on the screen. And coming full circle, for me the movie trades in the bombast and emotional manipulation which gave the real P.T. Barnum his success. Ironic, huh ?
There’s lots to like here, don’t get me wrong. This is a movie to admire, like a fantastic piece of civil engineering. But like the many new skyscrapers in Manhattan, I stand to be impressed - but for me, it’s not a movie to fall in love with.
Postscript: Just to reinforce the emotional message, compare this stirring live performance of This Is Me by Keala Settle on the BBC's Graham Norton Show.