For The Big Screen
West Side Story Reinvented
Written by Charlotte Jones
As the first musical adaption by Steven Spielberg, West Side Story is a well-made cinematographic experience paying homage to everything you love about Broadway-worthy theatre. It makes good use of dramatic wide shots, single-camera scenes, and leans into the Broadway musical aesthetic in a way that many adaptions for the big screen often fail to do.
It goes back to the 1950s Broadway show (and a tiny tiny hint of the 1961 film of the same name starring Natalie Wood). At its heart though, is a modern-day portrayal of Shakespeare's 1597 tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
Maria (played by newcomer, Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort of Baby Driver and Divergent Series) are caught between the racial tensions of two New York gangs in the 1950s. Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose (as Maria’s brother’s girlfriend) steal the show with their stage presence and their singing. Ariana is also a spectacular dancer – easily evident during the multiple numbers she has in the film.
Ansel Elgort, while a compelling choice for the character of Tony was not as strong of a casting choice. He doesn’t appear as confident in his singing, in comparison to the actors around him; however, he connects the audience with the character through his enigmatic screen presence. Rita Moreno (Valentina) was a star on stage back in the day and the parallels the movie drew between Valentina’s relationship with Doc and what could easily have been a future for Maria and Tony, had things played out a little differently.
West Side Story was well-paced, and the music felt like a natural progression of the emotions being played out by the characters on screen. The story followed relatively close to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but it showed the story in a way-more comprehensible manner for a modern audience. The story made itself very clear and heartfelt; however, some plot threads for supporting characters are left unresolved, which the story seemed to be setting us up for – but never delivered on.
The movie was confrontational at times, highlighting the racial tensions between two rival groups (and races) that are still relevant today. West Side Story made the audience feel the emotions and the fear of the characters while keeping some light-hearted and sometimes silly “I Feel Pretty” moments.
If you enjoy musicals or live theatre, this movie is not to be missed. However, it doesn’t need an already established love of the medium of theatre for it to be enjoyable, the action sequences are dramatic and engaging and the cinematography is vibrant and grand. Overall, this movie is worth the 2-odd hours you need and Steven Spielberg has done an amazing job transferring all the eccentric and over the top nature of a Broadway production to the theatre screen. It is rated PG-13.
West Side Story Reinvented West Side Story Reinvented