Movie review: West Side Story

Synopsis: An adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez

Do you think Steven Spielberg has a checklist? Maybe a checklist of things he would like to do such as being one of the most respected directors in Hollywood? Check. Direct big blockbuster films? Check. Direct a black and white movie? Check. Collaborate with some of the most amazing talents in front of and behind the camera? Check. Win Academy Awards? Check.

How about this, take a well-respected musical that has already swept the Academy Awards and add his fingerprint to it? Well, that seems to be next on the list with his adaptation of West Side Story. The 1961 version earned 10 Academy Awards and while I’m not predicting this film will replicate that feat, I will be shocked if it doesn’t earn several nominations. (Best Picture, Cinematography, Supporting Actress . . . you heard it here first!)

From the opening of this film, you can’t help but be captivated by the absolutely gorgeous cinematography. Every aspect of how the film is introduced is beautifully laid out by Janusz Kaminski who Spielberg has previously collaborated with on projects like Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, two films Kaminski won an Oscar for in the cinematography category.

If you haven’t been initiated this film is a musical and Spielberg and company do a phenomenal job of bringing the late Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to life. I have no problem confessing I was tapping along with great songs like ‘I Feel Pretty’, ‘Tonight’ and a top-notch rendition of ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ (A song that was the focus of an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm).

The story focuses on a rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks in New York City’s Upper West Side in the 1950s. One group is white and the other is Puerto Rican. At the beginning of the story they seem to be comfortable settling their difference with dance (makes sense, it worked for Michael Jackson in his ‘Beat It’ video.) but before long things become more violent.

Watching this film, you can’t help but feel a little nostalgia towards William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which makes sense as that was the inspiration for the original play.

Anytime there is a remake, reboot, etc. I am left wondering . . . do we need this? Think about it, the original film won multiple awards, but this does open it up to a new audience coupled with the fact that it’s been 60 years.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Spielberg did a great job with casting as most of the principals aren’t that well known so their stardom isn’t outshining the performance.

Elgor (The Goldfinch, Baby Driver) must have fainted when he got the call from Spielberg. This was a tremendous opportunity that he didn’t squander.

Rachel Zeglar delivers a wonderful turn as Maria. Not bad at all for her theatrical debut.

Hollywood icon, Rita Moreno is also in the film. She won an Academy Award for Supporting Actress and don’t be surprised if she gets nominated again.

Despite some minor gripes with the story, I thoroughly enjoyed this version and strongly recommend it. You wouldn’t know that Spielberg hasn’t directed a musical before, he did the source material very proud.

Back to Steven Spielberg’s checklist, take a well-respected musical that has already swept the Academy Awards and add his fingerprint to it . . . Check!

Grade: B+

Watch the movie trailer: