I don’t make it to the movies much these days. Mainly because what Hollywood puts out typically bores me. But musicals, yes, I can’t resist. My last film was IN THE HEIGHTS which was fabulous. When I heard Steven Spielberg was remaking WEST SIDE STORY I had two reactions: 1) why? It’s such a great film as is 2) Hmmm, but I still want to see what the talented director does with it.
I’m glad I did.
West Side Story 2021 is a glorious pull-back to the original era. The scenes are gorgeous – the show-stopping dance routine in the street was mesmerizing. Of course, we know how good Leonard Bernstein’s music is and how invigorating Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are, but what would there be left to tell?
Plenty. There were some wonderful new settings to many of these familiar songs. Gimbel’s department store even made me “Feel Pretty.” The pacing, though sometimes a little bloated by Tony Kushner’s dialogue which could have been curtailed a little (but hey, he’s a dramatist and I know those dramatists love to drama, so I’ll give him a pass), there was a slow and steady build to the payoff. The tragedy of the rumble, the lies which were meant to protect which end up hurting, the almost horrific rape scene when the white Jets, minus their two leaders, almost do the unthinkable until Rita Moreno inserts some right-headed morality into the mix. Then the ending. The pay-off was worth it.
The film’s theatre roots are undeniable. You might catch yourself saying that is not believable, or they rushed that too fast, or how could they fall in love so quickly, or how could she forgive him just like that … but it’s theatre, man; it pushes the dramatic envelop for the wonderful feelings at the end. And by wonderful, I don’t mean happy. I mean tangible. It has heart, as all good pieces of theatre should.
This is a beautiful, well-made film. Spielberg showed his magical touch of heart and tenderness in bringing this to a re-birth. Both films tell the story in wonderful ways. Highly recommend.