Movie Review: West Side Story (2021)


Title: West Side Story
Release Date: November 29, 2021
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Company:Amblin Entertainment | TSG Entertainment[
Summary/Review:

A remake (or, in Broadway terms, a revival) of West Side Story seems unnecessary, and most of the reviews I’ve seen of this version make the same kind of comments about how “meh” it is so I will try not to repeat them.  The strengths of West Side Story include a cast of talented, young actors/singers/dancers with appropriate casting of Latin American performers as Latin American characters (addressing the greatest flaw of the original film).  Rachel Zegler is delightful as Maria, and Ansel Elgort is serviceable as Tony.  David Alvarez and Mike Faist are great as Bernardo and Riff, but feel underused.  Just like the original movie, the role of Anita is the best performance, this time played by Ariana DeBose.

For a remake to work you’d expect a lot of significant changes, but the movie feels largely to tell the same story. It does feel like they were trying to make it feel “grittier” and more realistic, but it doesn’t really fit the tone of the musical.  And there’s so much lens flare it frequently obscures the actors’ faces.  For all the Spielberg wanted to make a musical, this ended up with song and dance numbers that feel subdued.  The only set piece that really made me feel “Wow!” is “America.”

The things that they do change feel minor. The entire story is framed by the pressures of urban renewal/slum clearance, a meta-commentary on how the original film was shot on streets condemned to make  way for Lincoln Center. The drug store owner/neighborhood mentor is now a woman named Valentina, a role obviously created to give a much-deserved part to Rita Moreno, and she does an excellent job.  Anybodys is played by a transgender actor,  iris menas, adding a new layer to that character.  But all of these changes seem to just be another ingredient tossed into a big soup of the movie so they don’t feel like they amount to much.

In sum, this movie has some great shots, talented acting, and a few new ideas, but it doesn’t add up to being anything more than an adequate movie.

Rating: **1/2