Sunday, March 6, 2022

West Side Story

Movie Name:
West Side Story
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno, Brian d'Arcy James, Corey Stoll, Mike Faist, Josh Andres Rivera, Iris Menas, David Aviles Morales, Sebastian Serra, Ricardo Zayas
Genre: Musical, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
"West Side Story" premiered in 2021 after being delayed due to the pandemic. It follows Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One" and it's also another remake to join his "Always" (which was a remake of Victor Fleming's "Pal Joey"). The film which takes place in 1957, follows the story of Tony and Maria, a couple of young star crossed lovers, who live in San Juan Hill, on Manhattan's West Side. Tony who is on parole (for nearly killing a man from a rival gang), wants to stay away from trouble, but his best friend Riff, the leader of the gang the Jets, is on a collision path with Bernardo, the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Tony and Maria meet at a local ball, and fall in love, much to her brother's Bernardo discontent. As violence escalates between the two gangs, dramatic losses occur, all the while Maria and Tony just want to move past all that noise. 
"West Side Story" is of course a well known classic, which came out in 1961, and won 10 Academy Awards. It has since become one of the most iconic musicals, thanks to the lyrics from Stephen Sondheim and the score from Leonard Bernstein, not to mention of course the choreography from Jerome Robbins (and additional direction from Robert Wise). This version of the material, which the wonderful Tony Kushner adapted for the screen, stays closer to the original stage musical, but it still bears many resemblances to the original film incarnation. At this point in his career, Steven Spielberg can pretty much do whatever he wants, and do it impeccably. His mastery of the cinematic language is truly phenomenal, and this film is a perfect testimony to his ability to distill the language of a musical, through his point of view. It's a film that is visually stunning, with a top notch editing, where the production design, costumes, cinematography, all align to create a sumptuous spectacle. However while watching this film I couldn't help but think: why was this film remade? It's an interesting revisionist exercise, but one that feels unnecessary, since the original film is in itself so present and so iconic, and ultimately casts such a large domineering shadow. It's one of those films that is easier to admire than it is to love, since it is a great example of how fantastic of a storyteller Mr. Spielberg is, however this rendition of the Romeo and Juliet saga ultimately doesn't actually bring a new angle to this story, and it's definitely not a novel take on the musical, much like Damien Chazelle did with "La La Land". The cast does a fair job of bringing these characters to life, but the real highlight goes to the cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, the production design from Adam Stockhausen and the costumes from Paul Tazewell. It's a watchable feature, but not a memorable one.