After what feels like years of waiting, the legendary director Steven Spielberg's take on West Side Story has finally been released to the world. But in an age of re-makes, was West Side Story worth the wait or will you forget about it as soon as you reach the car park?
Written by Niamh Brook
For those who have been living under a rock, West Side Story is a musical re-imaging of Romeo and Juliet set in 1960s New York. Gone are the Montagues and Capulets, West Side Story focuses on the race relations between the whites and the Puerto Ricans in a disappearing neighbourhood.
Having never directed a musical prior to West Side Story, I was curious as to how Spielberg would tackle such an iconic body of work. His take evokes a vibrancy and a sense of wonder that is hard to put into words. I felt myself leaning forward constantly throughout the two and half hour screening. Every single aspect of the film feels like a demonstration of perfection of craft. The filmmaking, choreography and performances are all outstanding, with Spielberg’s touch and love of the material present in every aspect of the film.
Every single musical number was phenomenal with classics like Tomorrow and Someday leaving me with a frog in my throat and a tear in my eye. However, it’s The Jet Song and Gee Officer Krupke, songs I have typically skipped in the past, that have stayed with me since the screening. The jet’s movement is simply incredible with Mike Faist as Riff shining every time he’s on screen.
On a similar note, the mainly unknown cast were outstanding, with Faist, Ariana Debose and Rachel Zegler leaving me in awe every time they were on screen. Their passion for their craft is clear as day and embody their characters beautifully.
West Side Story is a musical that has spanned over 60 years and a story that we are all familiar with, as a cynic, I asked myself did we really need a new version to add to the mix? The answer is yes. The original has deeply problematic representations of the Puerto Rican community, with white actors playing the roles. Spielberg’s version has only Latino actors in the roles and celebrated the diversity that can be found within the Latin community. Spielberg himself has noted the prevalence of the film’s delay in releasing the film in the wake of the #BLM movement. This rendition of a tale of racial prejudice offers a new generation to learn from its characters’ mistakes and revel in the film’s teachings.
West Side Story is one of the best movie musicals released in the past decade with an outstanding display of perfectionism from every single member of the crew. A re-telling for a new generation that feels vibrant, lively and utterly heart-breaking all at once. If you are a fan of expressive dance and aggressive finger clicking, trust me, you will love every single second of West Side Story!