West Side Story (2021)

In Steven Spielberg’s update to a classic, Tony and Maria fall in love despite being associated with rival gangs in New York, the Sharks and the Jets. It seemed like a daunting task to remake West Side Story, considering the status of the 1961 film as one of the greatest musicals — and films – of all time. However, Spielberg invigorates the movie with wonder and talent that makes this one of the rare remakes that rivals the quality of the original. The films are very similar yet this welcome reimagining hits all the right notes and assembles an amazing team in front of and behind the camera, filling the movie with passion and excitement. Ansel Elgort is great as Tony, and his standout moment is when he sings “Maria” — who is played beautifully by Rachel Zegler. Her film debut proves she’s a superstar and she embodies Maria perfectly, perhaps an even better singer and fit for the role than Natalie Wood in the original. Ariana DeBose is also lovely as Anita, and in a wonderful tribute, Rita Morena plays Valentina, a role with so much emotion and Moreno does substantial acting and singing even at 90! Mike Faist is also a great Riff here and has great screen time alongside Elgort. It seems like the key to making this movie work is Spielberg’s direction. You can tell someone who loves this story and material is taking charge here. The way he shoots on film, focuses on certain details and props for symbolism and foreshadowing, and the effort put into the costumes and production design are all simply dazzling. Leonard Bernstein’s booming legendary score gives the movie an old feel but the homage never brings the film down. Even as someone who has seen and loved the 1961 film, the story still made me emotional and watching scenes play out had me in awe. The numbers from “America” and “I Feel Pretty” to the powerful “Tonight” and the irreverent and fun “Gee Officer Krupke” are not just delightful to rediscover — but the production and singing are awe-inspiring and recapture what makes West Side Story resonate. The movie also casts Latinos as the Sharks and other Puerto Rican characters — believe it or not, Rita Moreno was the only Latina in a prominent role in the original film. The movie also highlights gentrification, racial tensions, the American dream, poverty, and other themes in a way that isn’t necessarily subtle or new — some themes are also even reflected in this year’s In the Heights — but still reflects what we see and must address now. The 156-minute runtime flies by and it didn’t feel nearly as long as it really is. For those of you who love the original, go rediscover a story with your loved ones with one of the greatest remakes I’ve ever seen and one of Spielberg’s best of his later career — and for those of you discovering West Side Story for the first time, be in for the greatest cinematic treat of 2021 so far.

West Side Story 2021 Official Poster.jpg

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