I’ve had to change my schedule a little this week because I still haven’t finished my current read. I’ll get round to it soon but I just didn’t have as much time to read this weekend as I’d wanted. So, I moved my film review up to today. I’ve been meaning to watch this for a while but kept finding excuses not to. If I’m honest, I wasn’t sure how much I actually cared. I’m not entirely confident that I’ve ever seen the 1961 film adaptation. I know that we used to listen to the soundtrack when we were kids. I remember it playing in the car and us having a lot of fun. Although, I don’t know whose influence this was. I guess one or both of my parents maybe.
Another thing that put me off is that I’m not entirely convinced by Steven Spielberg these days. Ready Player One and The Post were just more evidence that he’s not the consistently good filmmaker he used to be. Although, I’ve been unsure about him for a while. A.I. was a general disaster, War of the Worlds was a mess, and don’t get me started on how overrated War Horse is. But I figured I’d give him a chance. He’s still Spielberg after all. I just went into West Side Story expecting to hate it.
Which is why I was so surprised to really rather enjoy it. Is it as perfect as everyone says? No, but it’s pretty darn good. Especially as we didn’t really need another adaptation of this musical. He manages to bring the outdated and potentially problematic story as up-to-date as possible whilst staying true to the source. I do have issues with the whole premise but that’s not the fault of this film. Why we need more stories based on Romeo and Juliet is a mystery to me. Plus, there will always be something a bit weird about seeing gang members fight dancing and trying to look tough.
However, I think this film just about works. There’s a lot of visual nonsense throughout. With the amount of lens flare going on, I thought I’d stumbled into a J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie. Then there’s the low camera angle that tries its best to convince us this gangster movie is tougher than its twirling cast would make you believe. I have to say that he does do a lot of great things with colour palettes and the America sequence is just glorious. Plus, the opening sequence is pretty strong.
Of the two main stars, Ansel Elgort is fine as Tony but he doesn’t exactly offer anything new or brilliant. He’s an okay singer but he doesn’t make any of them his own. As a dancer, he sees awkward and unsuited to the role when he’s in the larger dance numbers. I can’t help but think that there was a better choice out there. Especially as newcomer Rachel Zegler really shines in the role of Maria. She is natural and sweet. Her duets with Egort only further highlight how bad a fit he was. Her voice is incredible and can’t help but put him to shame. You can see why Tony could instantly fall in love with her even if it’s slightly harder to see where the appeal is for her.
The rest of the cast is also pretty strong. Ariana DeBose is absolutely incredible in her role as Anita and she has amazing chemistry with David Alvarez as Bernardo. Bringing in Rita Moreno to play Valentina was a masterstroke and giving her ‘Somewhere’ to sing was perfect. And I know that many will dismiss it as woke nonsense but I applaud the decision to give the role of Anybodys to non-binary actor Iris Menas was genius. Not only did it make sense but it wasn’t so in your face to be simply ticking the representation box. So, yeah, West Side Story had plenty to enjoy about it but it’s hard to get away from the fact that its leading man is a bit of a damp squib. I won’t necessarily revisit this but I can see myself listening to most of the tracks on repeat for a few weeks.