Review: West Side Story

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I am not a West Side Story fan. There, I said it. I went into this film thinking “why do we need this?” Well, Mr. Spielberg, you took me to church and showed me the error of my ways. West Side Story is a flawless spectacle that features phenomenal performances all around and stunning visuals, and choreography, an exceptional film from start to finish.

Two teenagers of different ethnicities (Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler) fall in love, further sparking division between rival gangs in this remake of the 1961 film. From the very beginning, the cinematic quality is evident, each movement of the camera intentional and impactful. 60 years later, the story is brought to life by a great young crop of talent, each carrying their roles with power and poise. The standouts are Zegler and Mike Faist as Maria and Riff respectfully, the former full of grace and powerful vocals while the latter embodies the street rat tough guy set up for failure. The star, however, is Ariana Debose as Anita, a steady quarterback to the drama unfolding, delivering context through dialogue and song. She brings writer Tony Kushner’s expertly crafted script to life by framing the 1950s world in which the film is set. Those words are elevated by the familiar music that is powerfully brought into modern song with enhancements, but not changes. I cannot stop singing.

It all takes place amongst a backdrop that is equal parts authentic and stimulating, the period style shining in the day scenes and carrying an ominous darkness in the night scenes that vacillate between hope and concern. No other director could even come close to capturing the spirit of the original West Side Story and integrating it with a timeless tale of unlikely, tragic love quite like Steven Spielberg. This is without a doubt Spielberg’s best movie in years, a perfect musical adaptation that sings both literally and figuratively. Debose and Zegler cement themselves as vocal powerhouses, but also terrific actors, each just beginning what will be careers to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had some awards coming their way in the future, just as West Side Story is sure to leap to the top of the Best Picture pack.

West Side Story opens in theaters on December 10th, 2021.

Rating: 5/5

Photo from Vanity Fair

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