Review: West Side Story
Maddie Luke praises Spielberg’s ambitious remake of the beloved classic for its impressive performances and emphasis it places on authenticity.
Somethin’s comin’ and it’s certainly somethin’ good… Steven Spielberg’s particular, regenerative envisioning of West Side Story is a perfect way of bringing a classic film to a modern audience. Perhaps most importantly to a film like this, the cast is bursting with talent, with no easily discernible weak point.
With that said, a special mention must be given to Riff (Mike Faist) and Anita (Ariana DeBose) who perfectly compliment the film’s leads and who, in their own right, are arguably the stars of the film. We also see the return of Rita Moreno, known for playing Anita in the original version. Everyone only expected a cameo, but Moreno takes the key role of Valentina, here, and transforms the original character of Doc into a bridge between the two communities. The entirety of the Jets, too – performing classics like ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ so hilariously and with a genuine masterfulness – are emblematic of the strength of the whole cast from the lead roles to the supporting chorus.
It’s also a positive update that the film’s Puerto Rican community is finally being represented by Latinx actors. It was interesting how much of the dialogue was in Spanish and lacked subtitles but, even for those who don’t speak the language, this really doesn’t take any emotional power away from the film. In fact, the move only added to the film’s authenticity – a key element missing from the Wise and Robbins version.
West Side Story truly holds a mirror up to the modern world.
As ever, it’s amazing to see how Spielberg brings a simultaneous realism and theatricality together in the creation of the set and set-pieces. The film’s dance and chorus numbers create such a vibrant and real community in the streets of New York, which only ever amplifies the mounting tension and hatred between the two central gangs. Unfortunately, this only makes it more frustrating that, after spending so long creating this world, the final, tragic culminating moments feel so rushed and almost flat. Really, not enough time is given to generate the same emotional power of the original film or theatre productions.
Nevertheless, this film is an incredible achievement that transforms the famous love story we all know so well into a social commentary grappling with more modern forms of intolerance in America and the wider world. Touching on the issues of transgender identity, xenophobia, immigration, gentrification and the roots of gang warfare, West Side Story truly holds a mirror up to the modern world. Not only is it an enjoyable and powerful theatrical and filmic experience but it also leaves you thinking about this tragic story’s real-world underpinnings, even outside the cinema.