Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Josh Andrés Rivera, Ana Isabelle, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, Rita Moreno
Runtime: 2 hrs 36 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence and Mature Content)
Released By: Walt Disney Company
Official Website: https://movies.disney.com/westsidestory
Opening Day: 7 January 2022
Synopsis: A reimagining of the original Broadway musical, Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" explores young love and tensions between rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks on the streets of 1957 New York.
Name one Steven Spielberg movie that isn’t well received by critics. Sure, you may have thought that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was unnecessary, Bridge of Spies (2015) was underwhelming, and The BFG (2016) was too sentimental, but they have their fans and has received impressive reviews. To put it simply, it is impossible to fault the masterful filmmaker because he is really good at telling stories on screen.
The recipient of countless awards has done it again with his latest work, the first movie musical in his illustrious career. The 75 year old has dabbled in franchises (Indian Jones and Jurassic Park), animation (The Adventures of Tintin), historical dramas (Munich and Lincoln) and sci fi (War of the Worlds and Ready Player One), and he is not about to disappoint with this adaptation of the 1957 stage musical of the same name.
The movie is old fashioned to a fault, yet relevant to today’s society. It takes place in 1950s New York, where two rival gangs don’t see eye to eye. One group is made up of local white men who are not pleased with how migrants are populating the area, and the other gang is made up of a group of passionate Puerto Rican young men. Sparks fly when Tony (Ansel Elgort), a white man falls in love with Maria (Rachel Zegler in a very commendable feature debut), a Puerto Rican girl, and tensions rise between the two gangs. If you can’t tell already, the tale is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
If you are a fan of musicals, you’d be immensely pleased with the handsome production values (expect nothing less from Spielberg) as you brought around the buildings and alleys of 1950s New York. The streets are bursting with life, and you can almost smell the construction happening round the corner. If you have watched the stage production, you will be captivated by how the movie has transported the sets on screen.
The performances are enjoyable too. The romantic love ballad “Tonight” is a guilty pleasure to watch as Tony and Maria sing their hearts out on the signature balcony, while the stirring “America” will have you tapping your feet, as the tune is belted out by a spirited ensemble led by Ariana Debose, who plays the girlfriend of the Puerto Rican gang leader. The movie does justice to the original music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
This is the second time the story is adapted on screen. It was first made as a 1961 movie which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 10, including Best Picture. Like many movies from that era, almost all of the Puerto Rican characters were played by white actors in brownface and spoke with an exaggerated accent. Spielberg’s version ditches that, and the Puerto Rican characters are portrayed by Latino actors. Scenes where Spanish is spoken do not have subtitles, and Spielberg has stated that it is a deliberate decision done out of respect so that the language exists in equal proportions alongside the English sequences. We sure hope this version by Spielberg will receive recognition during the awards season.
(Be swept off your feet by another impressive Steven Spielberg movie, and this time, it is an enjoyable movie musical that soars)
Review by John Li