Tony Kushner, Arthur Laurents
Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose
Crime, Drama, Musical
Rated: PG-13 for some strong violence, strong language, thematic content, suggestive material and brief smoking.
An adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.
Quick disclaimer; I have not seen the original West Side Story. I’ve heard the music, can even recite some lines before seeing this reimagining by the great Spielberg himself. The only other real connection I had came from Adam Sandlers ‘Anger Managment’, so if this immediately disqualifies me from critiquing this so be it, but here’s my thoughts regardless.
Set during a time not too similar to where we are now politically, there is a rivalry of two gangs. The Jets, a group of tough guys with an enormously racist and sexist chip on their shoulders; and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang with an equally racist and sexist chip on their shoulders. Tony, (Ansel Elgort) the Jets leader, just returned from a stint in prison but gets brought to a school dance where Maria (Rachel Zegler), locks eyes with Tony from across the dance hall. Maria is the sister of the leader of the Sharks, who immediately wants to destroy this relationship, but will love win out in this classic revamped for the modern age.
First the music, all of the performances singing-wise are great. I can’t say that I will be listening to the soundtrack on repeat, but there wasn’t blemishes within the singing or the dancing performances. That’s the main reason to me as to why you should see this film. The dancing is very fun, bright colors and impressive ensemble dance scenes that look intensely choreographed and beautiful.
Both the leading performances were acted well. You can see why there’s chemistry between Tony and Maria and the duets are good. The supporting cast all are on their a game as well, however I could not help but draw comparisons with Riff (played by Mike Faist) and John Mulaney as a newsie (I mean that in the best possible way)!
Where I struggle with ‘West Side Story’ is with the story itself. I definitely see the Shakespeare in the story, but I’ve never truly appreciated the nonsensical nature of this particular story since drama class when I first read it. I don’t wanna spoil too much (which is silly cause my god how long has this movie existed?!) but I will say characters make choices that either makes them straight up sociopaths or just incredibly naive and shortsighted. I don’t think we’re meant to actually like Tony or Maria, and in the end the story to me is a tragedy of dunces rather than love.
There are a few scenes that just fall completely flat, and I feel that we need to listen to the voices of Puerto Ricans on how they felt the film portrayed them and adapted from the original. To me, I feel it’s still dated in it’s messaging. Visually the sets and lighting is stunning however, there was far too much lens flair for New York City. It felt like Star Trek sometimes with how much lens flare was there.
Overall, ‘West Side Story’ wasn’t really needing a revisit, but after seeing this I feel I understand the story enough to not see the original anymore. It’s great for singing and dancing but I am just too cynical I guess to appreciate the love story.