Movie Review: West Side Story (2021)

Now in theatres and Disney+

Adapting Shakespeare is a delicate art, making that plot and poetry resonate as a stage and movie musical even more of a deft craft and remaking a classic an act of delirious derring-do, so it’s no small feat that Steven Spielberg’s carefully considered revival of West Side Story (A-) is very often a resplendent triumph. This dramatic song and dance retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story circa 1950s New York City as star-crossed lovers yearn for a safe haven amidst a concrete landscape of rival gang feuds is a veritable cauldron of social issues, and Spielberg’s frequent screenwriter Tony Kushner further modernizes and recontextualizes many of the happenings to heighten the work’s modern resonance. Spielberg’s instincts for musical sequences are impeccable, and he has in Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler a magnetic pair in fine voice; their immediate romantic attraction is palpable and they are both wonderful in iconic roles. Supporting characters are roundly commendable as well, especially Mike Faist and David Alvarez as the charismatic gang leaders and Ariana DeBose and Rita Moreno as supportive confidantes, the latter adding soothing resonance in the fabric of the extended WSS universe. The handsome production design and dreamlike cinematography are impressive; the dancing kinetic and the fighting muscular. Spielberg’s spellbinding mastery of the creative form is almost a character in itself; he makes clever go for broke choices and is clearly in an element he’s envisioned for decades. Ultimately the original source material is the only thing holding this enterprise back, what with the text stimulating both expectations and limitations. Spielberg’s production doesn’t completely answer the question as to why a re-telling needs to exist, but it nonetheless pulses with vitality and verve as its own singular entity. Around each street corner and sumptuous sequence, he demonstrates something’s coming indeed, something quite good.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.