West Side Story is visually compelling, emotional, and the choreography and staging are magnetic, even when certain aspects of the story don’t always work.
Classic movie remakes aren’t new, but there is a responsibility to update them regardless of the time frame in which they were originally set. Acclaimed director Steven Spielberg tries to do just that with 2021’s West Side Story, altering certain aspects of the 1961 musical film, which is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Sondheim (recently passed away at 91), who wrote the music and lyrics, respectively. With a script by Tony Kushner, West Side Story it’s visually fascinating, emotional, and the choreography and staging are magnetic, even when certain aspects of the story don’t always work.
Like the original musical and its later film adaptation, Spielberg West Side Story The same story continues: The Jets – a mostly Irish gang led by Riff (Mike Faist) – provoke the Sharks – a Puerto Rican gang led by Bernardo (David Alvarez) – over territory fueled by racism by the Jets. There is a lot of tension between street gangs and they are always on the brink of a fight. Riff encourages Tony (Ansel Elgort), a former Jets leader who was released from prison for beating someone to near death, to join them in their fight against the Sharks, but Tony is against it. Meanwhile, Bernardo and his girlfriend Anita (Ariana DeBose) encourage their 18-year-old sister María (Rachel Zegler) to meet Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera), Bernardo’s caring friend who is not involved with the Sharks. However, Maria and Tony meet during a dance at the gym and fall madly in love, increasing the tension between the Jets and the Sharks.
While the last West Side Story A fairly faithful adaptation of the musical, Spielberg and Kushner make different changes to the story and characters in an attempt to add touches of realism, altering aspects of the plot to the benefit of some things and to the detriment of others. There is a frankness that surrounds and envelops each character and their lives that feels much harsher than in the 1961 film. Songs like “Gee, Officer Krupke” and “A Boy Like That” have an additional layer of darkness and pain, as well as certain character decisions (including Rita Moreno’s Valentina, which is a redesigned version of Doc from the original). . The changes range from the song’s location to the addition of characters like Valentina and the choice to make Anybodys’ (Ezra Menas) character more obviously trans (rather than implicit in the original film). There is absolutely no doubt West Side Story it’s a well-made movie, with Spielberg proving capable of directing a musical that has a complicated and layered history.
However, alterations don’t always work with certain stories and perspectives that lack the depth to fully amplify the subscribed parts of the story. Here, the Jets are in the limelight, especially as their backstories and the dynamics between them play out while the Sharks are elevated in their roles, but still generally fall short. Other things, like shark accents, are not necessary. West Side Story Ultimately, he continues to highlight the failure to capture the scope of the Puerto Rican experience living in New York City, as the focus still leans heavily toward the Jets. The film doesn’t have much to say about assimilation difficulties in the United States beyond the lyrics to “America,” which is a mix of the film and theatrical versions of the song. The best number in the film, Spielberg leaves the rooftop setting of the 1961 film, allowing the cast to take to the streets of their neighborhood, showcasing more of the Puerto Rican culture and community.
To that end, the musical numbers are well choreographed and staged in a way that doesn’t stagnate. The cameras move to fully capture the movements of the actors and the magnificent costumes (designed by Paul Tazewell), the vibrancy and intensity of the performances make them even more memorable and wonderful to watch. Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography is deep and gritty, matching the tone of the film; The camera zooms in on actors when the emotion is high and too raw to look away, adding nuance and depth to an already layered plot and, in general, strong supporting performances. Ariana DeBose delivers an impressive and memorable performance as Anita, one that is filled with joy, heartbreak, and a lot of passion. DeBose’s onscreen presence is incredibly magnetic and steals every scene he’s in. It’s also bound to steal the hearts of the audience, who will likely want to see more of it in future projects.
Mike Faist is committed to his role as Riff, who manages to make a deeply obnoxious character to some degree sympathetic. Like DeBose, Faist’s intensity makes his performance even more effective. David Alvarez is wonderful as Bernardo; has panache and suits DeBose well; the couple have a lot of chemistry together. For her first major role in a movie, Rachel Zegler does a good job conveying naivety, self-involvement, and Maria’s love for Tony. Ansel Elgort, while he has a pretty decent singing voice, is underwhelming as Tony, over-acting in scenes that require a bit more thought and don’t always match Zegler as a young man in love. Rita Moreno is fierce but tired just like Valentina, and it’s lovely that she’s part of the new movie in a role that’s not just a cameo.
There is so much to love West Side Story – be it the spectacular detail, the look of the movie, the musical performances, or the updates made to certain aspects of the story. However, there are also changes that do not work and never will, regardless of the best efforts of the filmmakers to achieve it. And yet West Side Story it still manages to captivate somehow, with the cast passionately lighting up the screen and making the most of their stories regardless.
West Side Story It opens in theaters on December 10, 2021. The film is 156 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for its strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material, and brief smoking.