West Side Story
review by Drusilla Blakey
In 1961 director’s Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins brought the famed musical West Side Story to the big screen. Now director Steven Spielberg is taking on a new version of the Bernstein and Sondheim musical aptly titled West Side Story once again. The original film is a beloved musical making this one of Spielberg’s more ambitious projects and has been very well received.
When seeing the promotion for the new version of West Side Story I was immediately struck with two feelings. First I thought “oh I like those songs” but then “do we really need a new version of this movie?” For me personally, I always found the over the top fake accents and the story of culture clashes a bit overdone. How many times can we have a Romeo and Juliet story? But as I sat down I really tried to be open minded and let Mr. Spielberg speak to me with his story. And overall, the movie is good.
As the movie began I was immediately struck by the negative same old story of the “Americans” wanting immigrants to “go back home“. I think this struck me in a negative manner due to the things that have happened in recent years where it’s been made very clear the times have not changed. When a large percentage of Caucasian Americans are still telling brown Americans they need to go home, it makes me very sad and I found it very upsetting having to watch it on screen.
The accents were not as over-the-top this time, I think mainly due to the fact that all the Puerto Rican characters were actually played by a Latinx cast. In the original they were not and wore very happy brawl make up. At least Mr. Spielberg got this right. Another important character in the original film is the
“Tom girl” character and in this version I’m glad to see that a non-binary individual was cast in that role. So at least these in these two areas, we have progressed.
The music and songs are still great and they were wonderfully performed. Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler sing wonderfully and are absolutely believable as our star crossed lovers. However the stand out is Ariana DeBose in the role of Anita. This is the role made famous by Rita Moreno In the original 1961 film and it was nice to see her appear in this film in role that was written specifically for her.
Overall, I do think it’s an important film to watch as you will see how history tends to repeat itself if we don’t make an effort to change. Additionally, if you’re a fan of the original, and enjoy the songs and music like me, you will enjoy this version as the musical sounds is elevated as well as the dancing performances; oh and the dresses are amazing!
Finally, I will give a shout out to the overall quality of the filmography. In the original version, you could “see” the sets. In this version you see the city as a character itself and it elevates the overall performances of the cast. In the behind-the-scenes footage for the film, someone commented “only Steven Spielberg could shut down the city of New York to make a movie“.
In addition to the film this release offers up bonus content including all-new footage of Spielberg at work in documentary filmmaker Laurent Bouzereau’s revealing “The Stories of West Side Story” and more. Grab your copy of West Side Story available now on digital, 4K, Blu-ray and DVD from 20th Century Studios.