Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classical musical, “west side story” is more than a shot for shot retelling.
Spielberg’s film follows the story of the original broadway play more than the original film did but this version still maintains the charm of the original film with a grittier presentation and certain Spielbergisms that fans of his will notice peppered throughout the film.
The talent on display here is remarkable. Ansel Elgort’s Tony is a more rounded character this time around with a backstory and more of a backbone. Much to the detriment of Mike Faist’s Riff who kind of plays second fiddle to Tony and comes across as a one note, shallow character who is deeply racist. I would go into the rest of the Jets but this remake doesn’t really give any of the other ones a moment to shine. Being a huge fan of the original WSS I could Name all the Jets easily but here they are all indistinguishable and unmemorable. Great singing voices but outside of Tony and Riff I don’t think really any of the other jets are really mentioned by name nor do any of them stand out.
As for the character of Anybody, the character pretty much gets a singular moment to add a bit of woke-ism to the film as a transgender possibly non binary character but they don’t delve much into that other than she wanted to dance with a girl during the gym dance scene.
The sharks on the other hand get way more spotlight this time. Bernardo is portrayed as a folk hero and the sharks are depicted as victims of social and racial intolerance. Which is true to a certain extent. However, the sharks caused as many issues as the Jets did in the original, so the depiction of the Jets being a representation of “white supremacy” didn’t sit well with me. However, those minor issues are quickly dashed by the tragic love story of Tony and Maria.
Rachel Zegler absolutely kills it as Maria. She is a strong willed woman who isn’t afraid to stand up to her brother Bernardo. For this to be Zegler’s first film she hit it out of the park with her acting and singing.
Another stand out is Ariana DeBose’s portrayal of Anita. She is a scene stealer in every since of the word and your attention just gravitate towards her. “America” is easily the best shot Music number in the film and its in scenes like this that Spielberg truly shines.
Because I love the original so much I went into this with HUGE expectations and dreaded the idea that this would be bad. But Spielberg really impressed me here. It isn’t as good as the original but then again it’s not trying to be. This is like an amazing cover song with chords rearranged and lyrics added. Despite a few story beats I could have done without, West Side Story 2021 is arguably one of the best films of the year. A film about racial conflict is as prevalent today as it was in the 1960s. And the film does show that if these characters could have just talked things through all the blood and violence could have been averted.
HipsterZOMBIEJoint Experience highly recommends checking out West Side Story.