West Side Story, rated PG-13
Sixty years after the original 1961 film, which won 10 Oscars, three-time Oscar winning Director Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), gives us a new version of the musical West Side Story. I never saw the original film, but recognized several songs (“America”, “Tonight”, “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”), from my parents playing the soundtrack when I was young. The film, which was delayed a year due to COVID-19, is set in the late 1950’s, and shows two rival gangs – the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks – battling for control of the streets in a decaying section of New York City.
The film was written by two-time Oscar nominee Tony Kushner (Lincoln, Munich), based on the book and 1957 musical by two-time Oscar nominee Arthur Laurents (The Turning Point). The music was composed by Oscar nominee Leonard Bernstein (On the Waterfront), and the lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, who died on November 26.
The leaders of the gangs are Riff, played by Tony Award nominee Mike Faist (Dear Evan Hansen), for the Jets, and Bernardo, played by David Alvarez, who is also a boxer, for the Sharks. Bernardo lives with his girlfriend Anita, played by Ariana DeBose (Hamilton), and his sister Maria, played by Rachel Zegler. One night at a dance at a local school, in which the rival gangs attend, Maria sees Tony, played by Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, The Fault in Our Stars), across the dance floor. Tony is a former leader of the Jets, recently out of prison after serving a year for nearly killing a man, and trying to get his life in order by working in the drug store of the wise Valentina, played by 90-year-old Rita Moreno (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1961 film), and living in the basement of the store. Tony and Maria dance briefly behind the gym bleachers, and instantly fall for each other. But Maria dancing with a non-Puerto Rican isn’t acceptable to her brother Bernardo. He prohibits it. But still, Maria and Tony fall for each other.
The film builds towards a big rumble scheduled to take place the next night at midnight. Maria pleads with Tony to call the fight off, and tries to do so with Riff, but the fight goes on.
All of the main acting performances in the film were solid. The film is visually stunning, from the cinematography by two-time Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), to the costumes, set designs, and the choreography.
Themes in the film include pride in being part of a group (gang), love, friendship, family and racism. Content concerns include some adult language, sexuality, attempted rape, and violence. Also, in the original film, the character Anybodys was portrayed as a tomboy. In the new film, Anybodys is portrayed as a transgender, played by Iris Menas.
Some of the film is in the Spanish language and no subtitles were used, an intentional decision made by Spielberg. The film did seem overly long at a little over two and a half hours.
Overall, I enjoyed this entertaining film.