Review: “West Side Story” (2021)


Keion Carter, Arts & Entertainment Writer/Reporter


Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler

In a world full of reboots, remakes and sequels, insert 2022’s “West Side Story.”

“West Side Story” is a film based on the 1957 musical released on streaming platforms March 2. Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” is a reinvention of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and tells the story of Tony, played by Ansel Elgort, and Maria, played by Rachel Zegler, two young New Yorkers who fall in love in 1950s America. 

“West Side Story” is one of the most well-known musicals of all time. Even though I have never seen the original production or its 1961 counterpart, I was expecting a wonderful experience. One of the film’s highlights was the stunning choreography, which always went perfectly with the songs. The songs were enjoyable, and the producers did an amazing job keeping the original structure but remastering it to today’s music. The highlight of the movie was definitely “Gee, Officer Krupke,” which featured an amazing song that, while being incredibly catchy, also gave viewers a deeper look into the Jets and it had one of the most creative and energetic choreographies in the film that used the set to its fullest. Another of the film’s strengths is the fantastic acting performances by the cast, with a highlight being Ansel Elgort, who has consistently proven himself to be a great actor. The songs and choreography worked together to dazzle the viewer, but that is when the problems started to set in. 

The sad truth of “West Side Story” is that the plot stretches my suspension of disbelief too far and just brings down the movie. I have seen plenty of musicals, so “West Side Story” had a lot to live up to, and sadly it did not.  “West Side Story” is a great movie for young children, but at the end of the day, it never surpassed anything that I have seen before and many of the elements featured in the film were done better throughout the musical genre. Even though I can get behind the concept of love at first sight, I have always believed that the Romeo and Juliet story pushes it too far. I am fine with Tony and Maria falling in love in two days, but the idea of two people willing to die for each other after less than a week of meeting is always ridiculous. This aspect of Shakespeare’s original play also somewhat ruins the second half of “West Side Story,”’ in which Maria ignores one of Tony’s worst deeds, which negatively impacts her because she loves him. 

Even though I was enjoying the film up until this moment, this just completely took me out of it. Another weakness of the film was the strange pacing which shined through in critical moments where the movie needed to stop and let the emotional beats hit the audience. Still, it instead chose to keep moving. This is often a problem with musicals turned into films, which have a limited runtime, so they cannot adapt everything that takes place in a four-hour stage performance.

The story’s problems are especially pushed to the forefront because I know better examples. If I wanted to see a more compelling love story, I could watch “The Music Man.” For a better look at the life of Hispanic Americans in New York, I could watch “In The Heights,” or a more captivating 50s setting, then there is “Grease.”

While “West Side Story” has an interesting message about gang violence, it needed to do more with its story so it could be counted among some of my favorite musicals. “West Side Story” is definitely worth the watch if you want to see the reinvention of a classic musical or a better version of the famous Romeo and Juliet story.