Friday, December 10, 2021

West Side Story

It's been 60 years since Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise gave us their award-winning adaptation of Robbins' stage musical West Side Story. That's a long time to wait for a remake. Enter Steven Spielberg to create a new version which may last for the next 60 years in a throwback musical that should delight both old and new fans.

Choosing to keep to the play's original timeline, the opening feels a bit dated, but that is quickly excused for the vibrant spectacle Spielberg offers complete with large-scale song and dance numbers. The director also gives us a talented cast that avoids the whitewashing of Maria from 60s film by casting Rachel Zegler in the role who, along with Ariana DeBose as Anita, are the movie's real stand-outs. The only casting I question is Ansel Elgort in the role of Tony who looks like a lumbering catalog model completely out of place compared to the rougher characters making up the competing gangs of the Sharks and the Jets.

And if there is an area where the remake easily outshines the original, its with the Sharks and Jets and more pronounced racial tension between them which will violently erupt in the film's climax. This is no more evident than a scene late in the film when Anita is confronted and cornered by the Sharks after the rumble. The added theme of urban blight and both factions being slowly forced out of the neighborhood helps further cement the resentment each has both at the state of things and towards each other.

Mike Faist and David Alvarez step up as the gang leaders itching for a fight to prove their superiority. Rita Moreno, who played the role of Anita in the 60s film, is brought back in the role of Valentina this time around who takes the place of Doc from the previous versions of the story in a nice addition to the story that also honors the original film. And Josh AndrĂ©s Rivera is well cast in the bland but pivotal role as the jealous Chino on whose actions so many events turn.

Whether or not we needed a new version of West Side Story, Spielberg succeeds in delivering a remake that captures the timelessness of the story (which of course it cribbed from another more famous work which has been remade in films many times since 1961). I wouldn't argue it is better than the original, both of which struggle a bit to push Tony and Maria together so quickly given the constraints of the story, but it certainly honors its source material and delivers an engaging cinematic experience.

Watch the trailer
Listen to "I Feel Pretty"
Listen to "America"
Listen to "Tonight"

No comments: