The film is an adaptation of the play, “West Side Story” by Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim. The story follows two rival gangs in New York City who fall in love with each other during a dance competition.
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West Side Story is a musical written by Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. The revival of the musical is set to open in 2021.
WEST SIDE STORY REVIEW (2021)
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I had no intention of watching West Side Story. The theme of racial tensions in twentieth-century America is well-worn at this point, and I’ve never watched the 1961 version all the way through. It takes a lot these days to keep me interested in a narrative like this, and most people don’t even try. Most films on racism and prejudice I’ve seen are dull, failing to examine where racism arises from and how to effectively combat it. Furthermore, although I like Steven Spielberg’s history and long career, I was unfamiliar with the majority of the actors in this picture. Ariana DeBose (Anita), who I recognized from Hamilton, or songs by legendary American lyricist Stephen Sondheim would be the closest thing to a draw in West Side Story. I won’t be making many comparisons to the original film since I’ve only watched sections of it and have never listened to or seen a stage play. Let’s have a look at what we’ve got.
West Side Story is based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and follows Tony, a former gang boss, and Maria, a young Puerto Rican immigrant. When Tony’s old gang mate Riff invites him to a dance to bring white people and Puerto Ricans together, he cleans up his act. When Tony encounters Maria, the younger sister of Bernardo, the head of the rival Sharks gang, his life is changed forever. Is real love strong enough to triumph against prejudice and familial ties?
Without a doubt, this film is wonderfully directed. The dancing passages are fast-paced and breathtaking, and the acting is generally excellent. The look and feel of the film make it clear why Spielberg wanted to update the source material; technological advancements and film techniques are all over the place. This is most evident in “Maria,” when the lights reflect on the damp pavement behind Tony. I wish I had a photo of that moment to share as an example since the visual impression took my breath away. Small, private moments like the fire escape meeting are equally as striking as the grandiose song sequences in this film. As Maria, Rachel Zegler is unquestionably the film’s standout star. She has a great voice, and her character is the most endearing because of the shy genuineness she gives to the part. DeBose also does a fantastic job as Anita. The performance is great all-around, in line with Spielberg’s aggressive direction for the subject. While I haven’t been following this film extensively, I have heard some criticisms of Ansel Elgort’s performance as Tony (Baby Driver, The Fault in Our Stars). I’m not sure how he stacks up to the original actor, but I think he’s excellent. He isn’t quite as remarkable as Rachel Zegler, but he gets the job done and shines especially during “Maria” and “One Hand, One Heart.” Along with “America,” they are two of my favorite songs from the film.
The film West Side Story is a chore to see. With a committed ensemble and a seasoned director’s vision, the picture is a technical wonder. I’d generally adore a film like that, but I think the restrictions of the underlying material are getting in the way. I’d never been a fan of the brief West Side Story synopses I’d heard over the years. Knowing that Pocahontas was Disney’s version of West Side Story, for example, didn’t inspire confidence. This film isn’t as awful as Pocahontas, but it has many of the same flaws. There isn’t a single character in this film that I find intriguing or fleshed-out. Tony, a former mobster looking for a better life and falling in love along the way, is perhaps the closest. However, due to the time period in which the book was written, the film does not go into great detail on this. I’m having trouble reconciling the Jets’ harsh leader with the sensitive songbird who falls for Maria. Rather of crafting a complex, multi-faceted character, it seems that the authors picked one extreme character characteristic to bestow on a person who appears otherwise regular and even lovely. Tony’s conduct makes no sense to us since we don’t comprehend him.
Many of the characters in this film act in ways that are out of character given their circumstances. Although I do not believe that movies should be realistic, I do believe that characters’ behaviors should be consistent with their environment and personalities. When Maria learns that Tony has murdered her brother, she does not seem to be angry enough with him. Although it’s a different sort of film, El Cid (1961) comes to mind, in which the protagonist is obliged to murder his lover’s father out of honor. She still loves him, but she is torn and outraged as a result of what has happened. Maria is heartbroken at Bernardo’s death, but she forgives Tony much too fast, asking that he not confess. We know there were mitigating factors in the battle that led to Bernardo’s death as spectators, but Maria is unaware of this. She had no reason to be so kind with Tony right now. Anita is the only character that makes any sense. Her actions irritate me and end up causing a lot of difficulties, but at least she’s responding logically to what’s occurred. But I still don’t like how Bernardo’s death has changed her whole perspective on America. That seems to be a little cartoonish.
That’s how I’d characterize West Side Story: cartoonish. I like musicals and films with a strong sense of style, but this is not one of them. Because we know so little about Tony and Maria, their relationship seems terribly forced. It’s like something out of a fairy tale: they meet during the dance and Tony is instantly enamored. However, it does not work in this situation. Almost every important male character in the film is a criminal, and the ones who aren’t are racist police. We’re meant to be on whichever side we’re supposed to be on. Tony is a dull guy with a terrible history about which we learn much too little. In the end, neither side’s gang members come out looking good, and their final judgments aren’t predetermined or earned in any way. Maria is the most pleasant character in the film, while Tony is the one that comes closest to being intriguing. Despite this, neither the speech nor the music seem to be interested in furthering their relationship or character development. I’m not sure how well combining fairytale logic and emotions with a realistic, current situation works. What does the narrative tell about the medium? Why should racism in America be portrayed as a Shakespearean fairy tale? Everything comes off as shallow and empty.
Great musicals, particularly subversive ones, take use of the medium. Les Miserables use theatrical theatrics to dive into the thoughts and emotions of its characters in a manner that a book cannot. Much of the experience of Hamilton is created by the contrast between the narrative techniques and musical genres. I enjoy a lot of Stephen Sondheim’s work, but seeing/hearing this one for the first time makes me feel like I’m missing something. Although the film is aesthetically lovely and some of the songs are quite catchy, the plot and characters are plain uninteresting.
Plot – 1
Acting – 9 points
Editing/Direction – 10
8 – Music/Sound
1 – Character development
West Side Story showcases a great director’s technical skill as well as the abilities of multiple outstanding actors. All the flash and glam in the world won’t save a tired plot with uninteresting characters.
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The “West Side Story live” is a film adaptation of the Broadway musical. It stars Natalie Portman, and was directed by Baz Luhrmann. The film has received mixed reviews from critics, who have praised its visuals but criticized the story’s lack of depth. Reference: west side story live.
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