Turn off light Favorite Comments (0)

West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story

Making a new West Side Story adaptation is a risky step for any filmmaker, including Stephen Spielberg. Both the original 1957 musical and the 1961 film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, are appreciated by both theater and filmgoers. However, Tony Kushner’s screenplay for the 2021 film adds enough fresh material to make it stand on its own. The last film was rightly chastised for employing white actors in Puerto Rican characters. Although it would have been preferable to see more Puerto Ricans in a film mostly concentrated on them, Spielberg’s film puts Latinx actors in these roles, righting one of the wrongs of the past.

This film retains Leonard Bernstein’s music and the majority of Stephen Sondheim’s original lyrics (with some changed for cultural sensitivity). Spielberg and Kushner specifically set their version in the late 1950s, during the period when the Lincoln Square neighborhood, which housed the San Juan neighborhood, was being cleared to make way for the Lincoln Center.

The Jets, a gang of white lads that includes Polish and Irish-Americans, are constantly at odds with the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang. However, they are also opposed by the law, as embodied by Lieutenant Schrank (Corey Stoll) and Officer Krupke (Brian d’Arcy James), as well as gentrification. The looming loss of their turf weighs over them all, even as they battle over who has control of it while they await eviction.

The film begins with a dance of the Jets painting over a Puerto Rican flag mural, which results in a fight between the two groups. Despite the gorgeous dance, there is a genuine sense of danger from the start. Riff (Mike Faist) leads the Jets, a tough and sarcastic young man who, despite his harsh demeanor, is committed to the other members in his gang. He’s willing to go to any length to safeguard them and their hold on the neighborhood – though it’s evident that Riff believes their struggle may be fruitless.

See also  Kadaisi Vivasayi (2022) Movie Review, Cast, Trailer, Release Date & Rating

Bernardo (David Alvarez), the Sharks’ leader, is a boxer who aspires to make enough money to return to his birthplace, however his love Anita (Ariana DeBose) prefers to stay in America, where she hopes to one day own her own dress boutique. Bernardo has an easier time gaining the respect and admiration of his teammates than he does of his 18-year-old sister, Maria (Rachel Zegler). After years of caring for their father in Puerto Rico, she has traveled to America to join Bernardo and is eager to establish a life for herself. Maria, played by Steven Spielberg, is rebellious and testing the limits of her freedom, eager to assert herself as a young woman who is no longer a child.

It’s no surprise that Tony (Ansel Elgort) is captivated to her the moment he sees her across the crowded gym during a dance. This Tony is now on parole after serving a year in prison for an incident in a battle with another gang. Valentina (Rita Moreno), the Puerto Rican widow of a white doctor, employs him in the drugstore. This new character may explain why Tony believes things can work out with Maria after only one discussion with her. He’s stupidly optimistic that he can persuade Bernardo to allow him be with Maria, telling himself, “I’ll make him like me.”

Other alterations to the original script include making Anybodys, played by non-binary actor Iris Menas, more overtly transgender. Bernardo and Anita’s connection is given more weight, and their excellent chemistry, as opposed to Elgort and Zegler’s duller chemistry, makes them appear to be the film’s key relationship. Songs like “I Feel Pretty” and “Gee Officer Krupke” are also re-contextualized by Spielberg and Kushner to make them more witty.

See also  The Kindness of Strangers Ending Explained

The film is every bit as lovely as you’d expect a Spielberg production to be. The camera moves brilliantly through the ruins of the buildings being demolished, while Janusz Kamiski’s cinematography cleverly plays with reflections on shining floors and puddles. They imagined a long-forgotten New York City, and Paul Tazewell’s costumes are exquisitely made to complement the dance performances.

Unfortunately, Justin Peck’s choreography (inspired by Jerome Robbins’ original dance) does not often mesh well with the cinematography. At moments, it appears that the camerawork is concealing rather than revealing the dancing.

Parts of the dialogue in the picture are in Spanish; unfortunately, these lines in Spanish aren’t accompanied by English subtitles, thus non-Spanish-speaking audiences will miss out on some of the action. The inclusion of the Spanish language is a nice concept, but it appears that English subtitles for the Spanish dialogue and Spanish subtitles for the English dialogue would have been preferable to make the picture fully accessible to all audiences.

The picture still works in large part because of the excellent performances. As Maria, Zegler makes her cinematic debut, and not only is her singing amazing, but her acting is on par with her older castmates. It’s rare to witness an actress on the verge of becoming a star, and Zegler surely is, with two huge studio films already in the works. Elgort is less successful as Tony, never really capturing his lovesickness or convincing us that he was once the Jets’ commander alongside Riff. He’s passable in most sequences and his singing is passable, but he has some truly terrible moments, most notably his over-the-top reaction in his most emotional section.

See also  Helen (2019)

From Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 picture, as the wise Valentina to James, whose Officer Krupke appears genuinely concerned for the young guys he’s regulating, the supporting ensemble shines. Bernardo, played by Alvarez, maintains a machismo façade while discovering out how to make a life in America. Broadway stars Faist and DeBose, who both have a compelling presence in addition to their singing, dancing, and acting talent, are the actual standouts of the group.

Faist is a less strong and physically scary Riff than we’ve seen in the past, but his devotion to the Jets, no matter what, is chilling. DeBose steals every scene in which she appears. Sharing the screen with an actress who has previously won an Oscar for the character you’re playing is no easy achievement, but DeBose deserves her own accolades, and every scene in the latter third of the film might be her “Oscar scene.”

Despite some problems, this new adaptation justifies its existence, even if Spielberg struggles to strike a balance between realism and theatricality, a difficult task for any musical director. The cinematography is stunning, and the performances are superb, so West Side Story succeeds as a film even if it fails as a musical.

Duration: 156 min

Release:

IMDb: 7.8

Keywords:
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story
West Side Story Review: Is a Fresh Look at an Emotional Story

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.