Friday, March 22, 2024

West Side Story (2021)

Streaming Service: Disney+
Movie Name/Year: West Side Story (2021)
Genre: Crime, Musical, Romance
Length:  2h 36min
Rating: PG-13
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner, Arthur Laurents
Actors: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno, Brian d'Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Iris Menas, David Aviles Morales, Sebastian Serra, Ricardo Zayas, Carlos E. Gonzalez, Ricky Ubeda, Andrei Chagas, Adriel Flete, Jacob Guzman, Kelvin Bryan, Carlos Sanchez Falu, Julius Rubio, Yurel Echezarreta, David Guzman, Sean Harrison Jones, Jess LeProtto, Patrick Higgins, Kyle Allen, John Michael Fiumara, Kevin Csolak, Kyle Coffman, Daniel Patrick Russell, Ben Cook, Harrison Coll, Garett Hawe, Myles Erlick, Julian Elia, Tanairi Sade Vazquez, Yesenia Ayala, Gabriela Soto, Juliette Feliciano Ortiz, Jeanette Delgado, Maria Alexis Rodriguez, Edriz E. Rosa Pérez, Ilda Mason, Jennifer Florentino, Melody Marti, Ana Isabelle, Gaby Diaz, Isabella Ward, Eloise Kropp, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Leigh-Ann Esty, Lauren Leach, Brittany Pollack, Kellie Drobnick, Skye Mattox, Adriana Pierce, Jonalyn Saxer, Brianna Abruzzo, Halli Toland, Sara Esty, Talia Ryder, Maddie Ziegler, Andrea Burns, Mike Iveson, Jamila Velazquez, Annelise Cepero, Yassmin Alers, Jamie Harris, Curtiss Cook
IMDb Blurb: 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.
Selina’s Point of View:
The original West Side Story (1961) is a classic. Generations grew up watching the Romeo and Juliet retelling and filing it away as one of their favorite movies ever. Considering the time in which it was created, as well as the subject matter, there are some problematic aspects to the original. That made it a great choice for remaking.
I’ve always said there is a place for remakes in our cinematic landscape. Admittedly, more often than not, remakes and reboots can be gratuitous attempts at cash grabs. In the case of West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s involvement (specifically as director) speaks volumes. Although he’s produced a few questionable sequels and soft reboots, he hasn’t bothered to try and direct any of them. I’m guessing that’s not the kind of thing he wants his name stamped on so prominently.
The first West Side Story had some issues with casting. A lot of white actors were cast as Puerto Ricans and brown face was used in order to make the racial plot work. It’s not something most people hold against the film, because it was a product of its time. However, that left things wide open for someone to bring it into the next century. There are minimal negative feelings toward the original along with an opening of the mind to a new cast.
Keeping the script and the songs as close to the 1961 version was a good idea. A lot of the settings changed, and the cinematography was updated, but the whole thing felt familiar and right. The writers added a deeper reason for the Jets and Sharks to be battling, for instance. The racial aspect is still center stage, but now the film goes further into the gentrification of the area. That fear of being evicted in order for condos to be put up is a familiar one in a lot of neighborhoods – speaking as a New Yorker.
Then there’s Rita Moreno’s new part.
No one was going to be able to outperform the legendary Rita Moreno as Anita. That’s just a fact. That said, she’s not in a position to recreate the part herself. In the original West Side Story, she was iconic. Part of why the movie is so good is because of her Anita portrayal. So, they opted to create a whole new part for her – and I think it was a fantastic addition. It added more to Tony’s story, and the extremely tense scene near the end was made that much better by her inclusion in the aftermath. (If you know, you know.)
Despite having to fill such big shoes, Ariana DeBose did an amazing job. I thought I’d be missing Moreno the whole time, but there were really only a few very short parts that brought my mind back to her predecessor. That might be an insult for a different film, but in West Side Story, I assure you that no one could have done better.
Ansel Elgort wound up being a pretty decent Tony. I was worried about him. I can blow a little hot and cold on my interpretation of his work, and I was just hoping this would be on the warmer side. He must be a fan of the original, though, because he brought it together. David Alvarez also brought Bernardo back to life in a way that his predecessor didn’t.
The standout for me, and this may be a hot take, was Rachel Zegler. I thought she was better than Natalie Wood. Putting race completely aside, I simply thought Zegler was the better actor. The final scene of the 1961 version is tense and terrifying. There’s a pit of dread that grows throughout Maria’s monologue and it leaves you in your thoughts. In this new version of West Side Story, it’s straight-up ugly-cry inducing. You still get that pit of dread in your stomach, but the sense of sadness is so much more palpable.
I don’t think a remake of West Side Story could get any better than this. It was phenomenally done, and it’s a prime example of what films should be remade, and how to do it.
Cat’s Point of View:
West Side Story is one of those tales that has become an indelible part of musical theater – and, I dare say, our culture in general - in a profound way. There are many that have not seen the Broadway production or prior cinematic treatment, and yet are familiar with the music and general story premise.
I, for one, am among those that had never experienced this re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet before via stage or screen. The music, showcasing the lyrical genius of Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021) and the music compositional brilliance of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), has been something I’ve encountered throughout my life. The songs have popped up in the most expected places – take “I Feel Pretty,” for example. Parodies or different versions of the song have appeared in productions such as Sesame Street (1969-), Friends (1994-2004), and even The Simpsons (1989-).
I digress…
It was high time that I remedied this hole in my knowledge of both cinema and musical theater via their convergence with this remake. It’s been on my ever-growing to-watch list since its announcement, after all. As soon as I learned that this remake of West Side Story was a passion project for Steven Spielberg (War Horse, Ready Player One, The Fabelmans), I was sold. The combination of such a classic story, wonderful music, and my favorite director was a convergence impossible to ignore.
This retelling of West Side Story was everything I hoped it would be and then some. It was superbly cast, impeccably shot, well-choreographed, and given the respectful treatment that such a classic deserved. It showcased its relevance in the modern day with our widening societal divides just as it did in its original runs while racial tensions were also at a boiling point.
West Side Story is exactly as I imagine it would appear in my mind, had I imagined the Broadway story taking place in the real world instead of a theater stage.
I’d go so far as to say that this version of West Side Story has cemented itself as a modern classic, and I’d give it a firm recommendation to anyone that enjoys musicals or musical theater.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 92%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 93%
Metascore – 85%
Metacritic User Score – 7.1/10
IMDB Score – 7.1/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 5/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5
Movie Trailer:

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