West Side Story shines as a heartwarming, brutal, and vibrant musical from Steven Spielberg. The musical numbers are handled with care, and a star is born in a breakout performance. Spielberg had no musicals in his resume, but West Side Story comes off as if he has done plenty. Spielberg’s take on the classic musical should open doors for an entire generation.
The original West Side Story is recognized as one of the best musical films. In this stunning remake, Spielberg delivers a spectacle that is right up there with the original. Acting as a sign of respect while carving its own path. West Side Story follows Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), two teens from rival New York gangs that fall in love. Honoring its source material, the film remains set in the ‘1950s.
Tony is affiliated with the Jets, and Maria is associated with the Sharks. This poignant love story grows into a hard-hitting film rooted in racial tension. Tony Kushner’s screenplay reimagines the musical for a new generation while staying close to home. Some moments are a bit jarring, and character decisions don’t make sense after certain events. For instance, a brawl between the Jets and the Sharks leads to a horrific end.
Maria proceeds to act as if all is forgiven and it doesn’t come across well due to the brawl happening minutes ago. The racial divide between the Sharks and the Jets feels appropriate like it did many decades ago. Zegler’s performance is breathtaking to witness. Her chemistry with Elgort amplifies the development between their two characters. This is one of the best debut performances I’ve seen this year. She displays emotional range, charisma, and conviction as Maria.
There’s so much to appreciate from West Side Story. The immaculate set design, stunning choreography, and brilliant direction make this a must-see event. It felt as though Spielberg had spent decades preparing for this moment. Tackling this genre without any prior experience and then having it turn out so well is incredible. The film’s energy is infectious and the lively performances will keep you invested.
I was apprehensive about this film being remade, but this exceeded every expectation while silencing my doubts. Kusher provides well-rounded characters to grow attached to and then shatters your heart when the conflict reaches its climax. While the first two acts are almost perfect, West Side Story rushes to the finish. It felt as though the fallout was lacking the same care that came before. Combine that with the jarring decisions from Maria and the film ends on a lukewarm note.
Spielberg’s visual spectacle doesn’t completely lose its footing, but the resolution is rushed. Everything before is meticulously crafted and handled with precision. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography accompanied by Spielberg’s direction makes the choreography breathtaking as it unfolds. Elgort shines as Tony, the young man driven by guilt and love. His reserved, but boisterous behavior keeps Tony an interesting protagonist to follow. Every supporting character is brought to life by crowd-pleasing performances.
West Side Story’s runtime might be felt towards the third act, but it will all be worth it for this 2 hour-long spectacle. Zegler and Elgort’s impressive vocals will warm your heart, especially Zegler, who accomplishes a lot in this star-making debut. With West Side Story, Spielberg continues to prove why he is regarded as one of the best filmmakers in the industry. The original musical film still holds up, and now it has a proper remake that doesn’t stray too far. West Side Story is a glorious achievement and should be experienced on the biggest screen possible at least once.