Movie Review: West Side Story


In December of 2021, the long anticipated remake of the the 1961 musical West Side Story was finally released in theaters. As a long time fan of its predecessor, I went into this film not knowing what exactly to expect, and I emerged from it with overall positive emotions. For some background, West Side Story is arguably the most famous retelling of Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet”. It follows two rival gangs, the Jets, who are white men born and raised in New York City, who are struggling to keep a hold of their territory, and the Sharks, who are immigrants from Puerto Rico looking to make a new life for themselves. Caught in the middle of all of this are our two main characters, Tony and Maria. The two meet at a dance one night and fall in love, but are pulled apart by the warring gangs. This adaptation of the 1961 movie brings a breath of fresh air to the script as well as giving some characters a richer backstory. For instance, Tony did not leave the Jets like in the original, but was sent to prison for 1 year after participating in a “rumble”, or a gang fight. They also have revised the order in which some songs are performed, one being “Cool”. In the original, this song is performed after the rumble between the remaining Jets members, where as in the 21′ version, it is performed leading up to it. This choice gave us more depth into Tony’s struggle, as we now see him desperately trying to reason with Riff to stop the rumble. The other song change comes when “I Feel Pretty” was placed directly after the rumble, which I was extremely skeptical of at first. I think it really worked to the films advantage, as we see how oblivious Maria is to the violence happening around her, and it makes it that much more devastating when she finds out that Tony has killed her brother and must confront how terrible reality can be. One change I am not fond of however, is the dress that Maria wears during the final scene, and while this sounds irrelevant, it diminishes Marias final arc. The costume designer of the 21′ movie dresses the Jets and their accomplices in cool tones, such as blues and greens, and the sharks in warm tones like red and orange. The first time Maria sees Tony, she is wearing a pure white dress, with the only color being in a thin red belt. This symbolizes her innocence, and little knowledge of pain, where as in the original finale, she is wearing a completely red dress, showing how she is now aware of the pain in her life. But in the new finale, she is wearing a blue dress, and while I understand the sentiment of Tony’s color palette becoming hers, it sacrifices her development for his legacy. That being said, the supporting actors were the true highlight of this movie. Ariana DeBose (Anita), Mike Faist (Riff), and David Alvarez (Bernardo), were some of the strongest actors I have seen grace the big screen in a very long time, not to mention they, along with much of the rest of the cast, are Broadway actors and not big names. They made bold new choices with the characters that still felt true to them, and stole almost every scene they were in. Rachel Zegler (Maria) was very solid as well, even though she was only 18 at the time of filming. My only real complaint is with Ansel Elgort (Tony). He did well, but his performance seemed very surface level, and he was outshone by his castmates in almost every scene. But overall, I did really enjoy this new look at the tried and true classic, and was happy to revisit it.