FILM REVIEW: West Side Story starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose & Rita Moreno

By Neil Durham

WORTH A LOOK?: *****

RELEASED: Friday 10 December 2021

Steven Spielberg’s bold reimagining of the 1961 film might not currently be attracting the audiences it needs to recoup its budget but it’s been shortlisted for our film of the year monsta and you can vote for it to win here.

  • Read on for reasons including how we shed a few tears during this film’s conclusion

And you should at least consider doing so because the inter-racial romance at the story’s heart is played beautifully by Rachel Zegler and star of the film Baby Driver, Ansel Elgort, shortlisted for our TV/Film Actor monsta.

Spielberg keeps the 1957 setting of the original Broadway musical which became a film 4 years later and which won 10 Oscars.

The 2021 remake opens with the slum clearance of part of New York’s West Side as the white working class Sharks fight with the Puerto Rican Jets as attempts are made to integrate both warring factions.

It’s a story with particular resonance for now and the divided society we live in as the indigenous working class blame the immigrants for their misfortune and want to see them return home to where they belong.

We weren’t expecting so much from Elgort’s Tony who sings convincingly and dances brilliantly not least during the balcony scene where he woos Zegler’s Maria and they revel in the joyous Tonight.

Elsewhere the immigrant experience is well-debated in the classic America as Maria’s brother Bernardo is missing home while his girlfriend Anita, a strong performance by Broadway’s DeBose, feels at home amidst the aspirational culture she is now a part of.

The unsubtitled sections in Spanish may irritate those who do not speak it but adds a frisson to clashing cultures where the dominant one feels threatened by not understanding the language of the other.

We’re not devoted to the original film but do appreciate some of the changes here not least the gender swap of the character played by Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar as Anita in the original film, and sings showstopper Somewhere here perhaps a little too quietly for our tastes. The transgender update felt well placed also.

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim was involved heavily with the film and it’s such a shame that Covid delayed the film’s release by a year and that he died shortly before it came out in December 2021.

We’re not big fans of dancing but the distinctive style of the original with its synchronised, almost jazz moves are replicated here.

Song Gee, Officer Krupke even offers some insight into the mistreatment of the Sharks at the hands of their parents. The score by Leonard Bernstein is almost classical in its scope and range.

The story is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and we don’t mind admitting we shed a few tears at its conclusion as the idea that people who have been treated terribly treat others terribly is underlined.

West Side Story is a film that is so lovingly recreated and skillfully updated that it fully deserves to be seen on the big screen.

It’s not yet on a streaming service and so its lacklustre box office so far is disappointing but perhaps it has more to do with an older audience likely to most want to see it being harder to persuade back into a cinema at this current time.

We fully expect that over the extended Christmas and New Year break that it will find that audience as it fully deserves to do.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy West Side Story
  • Have you heard any of these songs or seen any of these shows? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
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