Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana Debose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno and Mike Faist
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner (Screenplay) and Arthur Laurents (Based on the stage play, book by)
Synopsys: An Adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Shark, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.
The mind that brought us E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List gives us an updated take on this classic musical. It’s been three years since his last feature release (Ready Player One) and in lead up to this I remember a lot of people thinking that he was a poor choice for this remake. Thinking that they should have gone with a lesser-known minority director to take this one on. Which would have been fine. And as much as I love what Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing (Encanto, Tik Tik Boom) I don’t think there is anyone that could have captured the magic of the era quite like Steven Spielberg did. So, with that in mind I’m happy Mr. Spielberg chose to take this one.
Just as a disclaimer before I jump into it, I need to be honest. I have never seen the original 1961 musical. My opinion is simply of this film and its own merits. I wasn’t even aware of the specifics of the plot outside of the romance aspects that came between rival gangs. So, I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns that came forth.
What it did well- I thought the chemistry between the characters was enjoyable to watch unfold. The casting of fewer mainstream actors and actresses was a huge plus for this movie. If it were faces of people that we’ve seen say in a recent marvel movie it would have been a detriment to the film. I’ll be honest I was even distracted for the first few minutes by Ansel Elgort because of the few things I’ve seen him in. But that quickly subsided as the movie progressed. I thought the plot moved quickly but the love at first sight relationship between the two leads (Elgort and Zegler) and their Romeo and Juliet subplot worked so well that you went along for the ride. While Ariana Debose stole the show as Anita for the middle portion of the film and the rag tag group of Jets and Sharks fit their roles and did their parts to bring this world to life. But what really drew me in wasn’t the nostalgia which our movie going experiences are over saturated by at point, but the feel, and I guess some would call it nostalgia. The tone, presence and cinematography truly felt not so much like a remake of a 60’s movie but a remastering.
There aren’t any cons that come to mind outside of a few underlying liberal agendas that were present but not too aggressive. For me it was more like, “oh I see what you’re doing there”. There was a character that followed the Jets around wanting to be a part of the gang. They wouldn’t let her because she was a girl, but there was a scene where explains that she isn’t a girl but a boy and makes them despise her even more. They end up excepting her later when she proves herself/himself. I’m only assuming that was a different character arc in the 61 version. There is rampant racism, which is a key plot element, that feels all to relatable to today’s world. And, unfortunately people had to die (SPOILERS) to get the point across that there are more important things to consider about a person than the color of their skin. Advice a lot of people should consider today…just saying.
In summary I would absolutely recommend this movie, I believe it is on both Disney plus and HBO Max. Not sure how that works. The cast was enjoyable the musical throwback was pleasant, they didn’t just try and update it for the sake of being modern and the story is simple and something that I think all of us can get behind.