"West Side Story" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
The story of the forbidden love between Tony and Maria is perhaps one of the most famous musicals in cinematic history, and I think Steven Spielberg was the perfect choice to adapt the film for the audience of today. He is able to capture the magic and the charm that made the 1961 film special, as well as integrating beautiful cinematography and a modern-like touch to make the film seem appealing to older audiences and the younger generation alike.
The film opens with the iconic opening sounds, as well as the Jets graceful prowling and dancing across the streets of New York City. Throughout this first opening number, they are able to perfectly set up the main conflict of the story - the American Jets vs the Puerto Rican Sharks. These two gangs have been fighting for quite a while when the film opens, both sides trying to take control of their territory in 1960s New York.
Yet, this conflict proves a challenge for Tony (Ansel Elgort) who falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zelger), who is the little sister of the Sharks' leader, Bernardo (David Alvarez). Now, faced with the decision of staying apart to avoid further conflict or to pursue their love and run away with one another, both Tony and Maria have to make that decision together, which will ultimately change the lives of everyone involved.
For the acting performances, I think this film will make Zelger, Ariana Debose (who plays Anita), and Mike Faist (who plays Riff) into breakout stars. These actors seem to always be on point throughout the whole film, and really are able to set the tone for each side of the gang war throughout the film. Same goes for Alvarez and the other members of the gangs. It's a joy to watch these young actors bring this Shakespearean film alive for the 21st century.
However, even though Elgort has already proved his acting talents in numerous other films before this, I don't think he is given enough screen time or the opportunity to prove himself as this iconic role. Sure, he is great in many of the scenes, but we are left wanting more of Tony after a while. Yet, even when we do receive scenes that focus heavily on Tony, he just seems out of place. Every other Jet is jittery, hyper, ready to fight at the drop of a hat, while Tony is more relaxed and chilled out. It does make him seem like a cool and mysterious protagonist, which many girls flock to anymore in films. But I just don't think he fits in with the rest of the cast for this film. This is nothing against his acting abilities, but rather due to the direction that was placed on his director.
Yet, after saying that, Spielberg has an eye for talent and beautiful scenes, which is evident in this film. The music sequences are elegantly shot and beautifully choreographed, especially the "America" number. Debose has already received critical acclaim for her time in the Broadway production of "Hamilton", but I think this film, and this musical performance in particular, shows how good of an actor and performer she really is.
Even when the film gets serious and has violent outbursts towards the end, it doesn't lose the charm or the dreamy-like atmosphere that it previously created. This film seems like a huge passion project for Spielberg, and he makes sure to take special care of every scene he creates for this film. You can even tell how close he is with the actors and crew due to the numerous photos and videos uploaded to social media about everyone's time on set. This seems like a very special production, and it definitely shows in the quality of the film we have received.
Many fans and film critics alike probably dismissed the idea of a revival to this classic film, yet I think this is the best musical of 2021. I think the actors and Spielberg are able to hit every note, perfect every dance move, deliver amazing monologues, which ultimately does the original film justice. I also can't not mention Rita Moreno's graceful presence in the movie, relating it to the beauty of the film almost fifty years prior. This film not only proves doubters wrong, but shows how romance and music can still inspire people of all ages.