“West Side Story (2021)” Review

A review of the remake of the classic musical from 1961.



¨West Side Story¨ originally hit theaters in 1961 and won ten Oscars, making it the musical with the most Academy wins. Steven Speilberg´s remake had a lot to live up to, as it is a much more modern interpretation of the classic.

Sydney Herz, Editor-In-Chief

The reimagined classic was released on Dec. 10, 2021 with Steven Spielberg directing and former star Rita Moreno as the executive producer. The film was originally a reevaluation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. It follows the story of Tony and Maria, each part of one of the two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, who are vying for control of the streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 1957. The film highlights racial inequalities, as the Sharks are Puerto Rican and the Jets are Irish-Italian. The sequel to the original movie adds its own spin on the iconic scenes while still preserving the original magic the movie elicited. 

The movie begins with the iconic whistle, guaranteed to spark joy within initial lovers of the film. The casting was done to a tee, with a standout performance by Mike Faist, who played Riff, containing the same pompous, bad-boy attitude that made the character so iconic sixty years ago. However, his character lacked some of the childish humor that was so effortlessly carried out in the original in scenes like “Gee, Officer Krupke”, which was not as well-done as in the original. The number fell short in its portrayal of the youthful, immature aspects of the Jets, and felt a bit over-the-top and choreographed, not natural as the first version felt. Furthermore, Bernardo’s character, played by David Alvarez, also felt a bit less upbeat and fun as he did in the original; he came off a bit too intense for me. Also, the script adjustment to him being a boxer felt unneeded, it didn’t add much to the story or  give him an advantage in the rumble. On the other hand, the adaptation of “Cool” was vital in the development of the story, as it develops the character of Tony as a desperate man trying to stop Riff for the sake of love, and Riff who is perfectly illustrated as unstoppable here. The final downfalls of this film were with “I Feel Pretty” and the marriage scene between Tony and Maria. “I Feel Pretty” originally came before the rumble which allowed the film to effortlessly flow from upbeat to tragedy. Moving the song to after the rumble felt a bit out of place and did not give the song the recognition it deserved. The wedding scene also felt out of place, as the original was spontaneous and sweet, the reimagined version felt too rehearsed and rigid.

Despite these stumbles, the reimagined classic excelled in casting and music. Ansel Elgort who plays Tony, was a fan favorite, provoking their tears and pulling on their heartstrings with his exceptional, unexpected vocals and deep gazes in the eyes of Maria, played by Rachel Zegler. At first glance, you may be skeptical of his portrayal of the iconic character, but as soon as he belts “Maria” and shares the screen with Zegler during “Tonight”, Elgort will steal your heart once again. The inclusion of former Anita, Rita Moreno was perfectly carried out. Making Doc’s character a Puerto Rican woman allowed for Moreno to shine and act as a guardian angel to Tony, giving the originally dry character of Doc some space to expand and develop. Finally, the inclusion of more Spanish without subtitles allowed the film to feel more authentic. 

Overall, the remake exceeded my expectations of the iconic film and is guaranteed to leave you humming the tunes all the way home. The original music and seeing Moreno gave intense feelings of nostalgia. While the film’s original major scenes of ¨America” and “I Feel Pretty” were dearly missed, the art and message behind this movie felt more present now than ever and Spielberg did an outstanding job bringing light to these racial injustices while also eliciting the same feelings of pleasure as the original in 1961. In the end, the original film remains superior to the modern reimagined version.