West Side Story (2021)

west side story poster 2021 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Good to see Spielberg try something new

Many changes but still another version of a classic

Movie Info

Movie Name: West Side Story

Studio: 20th Century Studios/Amblin Entertainment/Amblin Partners

Genre(s): Musical/Drama

Release Date(s): November 29, 2021 (Premiere)/December 10, 2021 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

west side story maria rachel zegler

Love at first sight?

The West Side of Manhattan is changing and the battle for San Juan Hill is on.  The once affordable housing is coming down and there is new construction that will bring a higher class of people.  Despite this, the Sharks and the Jets battle for control of the turf.  Led by Riff (Mike Faist) the Sharks don’t want the Puerto Ricans to take the land and the Puerto Rican Jets led by Bernardo (David Alvarez) feel they have just as much right to the land as the Jets.  When Tony (Ansel Elgort) meets Bernardo’s sister Maria (Rachel Zegler), love is instant…but can love survive the hate that is brewing.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, West Side Story is a musical romance-drama.  The film is an adaptation of the 1957 musical which was originally adapted for the screen in 1961 (winning the award for Best Picture among other Oscars).  The movie was released to positive reviews but struggled in the box office.  It received Academy Award foorr Best Supporting Actress (Ariana DeBose) with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography.

west side story jets

When you’re a Jet…you kind of dance when you walk around

West Side Story is a classic and many objected to a remake of the one of the seminal theatrical musicals…I looked at it as an opportunity to modernize the story, provide Spielberg a new challenge, and right some of the “wrongs” of the original…and for the most part it does that.

The bottom line, however, is that West Side Story is West Side Story (which is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet).  The story is what it is and there is a good chance you know or at least have some idea of where it goes.  The movie smartly makes comparisons in the movie to recent arguments against immigration and this is all pushed that the characters are fighting over something that won’t even exist soon.  History is going to absorb them all.  The musical doesn’t change much, but some of the storytelling/singing is altered for the narrative.

west side story america ariana debose david alvarez

Still the high point of the movie…

The cast is very good and it is appropriate that the cast matches the cultural background unlike the previous film.  Ansel Elgort became a problem for the film when he was accused of a previous inappropriate relationship, but he’s ok since the Tony character doesn’t always feel like the brightest.  Rachel Zegler is a good, innocent Maria, but she is also a reminder that Maria maybe isn’t a great person (she sleeps with her brother’s killer hours after his death and then makes his grieving girlfriend deliver a message…because “love”).  David Alvarez has fire in his performance as Bernardo and Ariana DeBose has the meaty role as his girlfriend.  Rita Moreno returns to the movie as Valentina and gives a good rendition of “Somewhere”…her previous performance in the original film version won her an Academy Award.

west side story rachel zegler ansel elgort

I know you just killed my brother…but hey…love…what can you do, right?

The movie’s music and visuals are top notch.  Spielberg feels like he’s been in a bit of a rut for a while and it is nice to see him out of his comfort zone.  The decision to keep Spanish dialogue untranslated in the film is commendable and creates an equality between the sides…plus, it shows the amount of code switching the Puerto Ricans have to do to survive in the city.  The musical (in my opinion) has its biggest problem in the song “America” which in both this version and the 1961 is the high point of the film…leaving a lot of time after it that never measures up to the look and performances.

West Side Story is a tricky film that Spielberg tries to navigate.  He succeeds in this attempt and it is too bad that the environment of COVID, blockbuster superhero movies, being a “remake” (it is actually an adaptation), and the impending doom of lower theatrical attendance hurt a nice movie.  If you missed West Side Story, it is worth seeking out and enjoying a visit to a classic musical with a new modern look and feel.

Related Links:

West Side Story (1961)

The 94th Academy Award Nominations

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response