Saturday, December 11, 2021

West Side Story (2021) - Movie Review

The Movie: West Side Story

The Director: Steven Spielberg

The Cast: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist,
Josh Andrés Rivera, Ana Isabelle, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James and
Rita Moreno

The Story: The classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City.

The Review:
Before I say anything about the movie itself I have to say thank you to Steven Spielberg for giving an example of what a cinematic experience can be. Not just going to a movie but being swept up in stylized storytelling. Everything about this movie, every character, every scene, every set, every location, every song, every color, every bit of dialog, it's all designed to pull you into a world not quite like our own and one you will want to revisit from time to time.

Of course, this movie is based off of the original from 1961 which was itself inspired by Shakespeare's classic play Romeo and Juliet and a lot of those original themes are carried over. The tragic story is fully intact so if you are a fan of the original, then Spielberg's take on the material will definitely be to your liking. The whole thing is about as straightforward of a translation it can be without being a shot for shot remake. I would say the choreography by Justin Peck is probably the biggest reimagining of anything in the movie and all of it is absolutely beautiful.

The dancing, the music, and the singing are really the things that stand out above anything else and are what makes watching such a fun experience. The movie introduces Rachel Zegler to the world in a very big way as she takes center stage in the role of Maria, the actress will also be appearing in the upcoming Shazam! Fury of the Gods and as Snow White herself in Disney's in-development live action remake. She definitely has that star quality and shows off every bit of that energy during every scene she is in. That being said, I feel like Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita made a bigger splash than anyone else in the movie with a performance that I'll be looking at as one of my favorites of the year.

Speaking of Anita, Spielberg brings back Rita Moreno, who embodied the role in the original to play a new character in his version of the story. Moreno's career has been going strong for decades although she has seen a bit of an upswing this year thanks to her role in the One Day at a Time remake TV series and Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, a documentary by Mariem Pérez Riera, chronicling her amazing career so it was great to see her featured prominently in this movie and in a role specifically created for her. 

After all that, now here's the thing. As well put together as this movie is, I feel like one key piece is missing that is essential to the whole thing working. While watching the movie, I kept thinking how these two kids just met and all of a sudden they are so completely in love that even some truly awful things that happen can't get in the way. For those that don't know the story, I won't go into detail here, but, with everything that happens over such a short period of time, the love story is the least believable and ends up being the least impactful while it's supposed to be the core of the entire production.

That being said, there are still plenty of powerful moments, they just don't necessarily involve the love story. In a weird way, it reminds of George Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy where there's all these amazing storylines that take place in the background of a love story that pales in comparison. Yes, I just compared West Side Story to Star Wars. Deal with it. I'll just chalk this movie up to being one of those ones that, even with some significant flaws, I can still enjoy it thoroughly for everything else it provides.

The Verdict:
West Side Story is the beautiful cinematic spectacle I was hoping for even if the primary emotional punch doesn't quite land as intended. Spielberg pulls out all the stops and makes every effort to make this movie the best it can possibly be and for the most part, it all works. Great cast, catchy songs, and eye popping visuals make for one of the most enjoyable movie theater experiences you will see this year.

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