The long awaited “West Side Story” is here, a remake of the iconic cinema classic from 1961. Directed by Steven Spielberg, this is a faithful and entertaining version of the beloved film. Although it does not have quite the flair of the original, it has fine performances full of empathy and feeling with social commentary about gentrification and the importance of community.
Spielberg dispenses with bright pop art colors in favor of a more natural setting. The palate is a gray blue this time around and immediately the scourge of modernization is viscerally seen. Rubble is everywhere. All is a shade of middle gray.
The narrative follows the first film, almost to the letter. Riff (Mike Faist) tries to get his best friend Tony (Ansel Elgort) to attend a dance, but here Tony is an ex-con and says he can’t go citing his parole, but then he reluctantly consents.
Enter the entrancing and vulnerable Maria (Rachel Zegler), who is seen by Tony. Needless to say and well known by virtually every cinephile, romance and trouble commence.
The choreography, though not a surprise, still has pace and charge and there are heaps of nostalgia for lovers of the original. The film is held up high with galvanic buoyancy in the strength of its acting, highlighted by Zegler, and by Elgort who displays an eerie brooding quality as well as charm.
It is a pleasure to see Rita Moreno who co-starred as Anita in the original 1961 production, now here as a store owner and the film’s spiritual conscience.
In this version there is an updated touch to the “wedding” scene. It is set in a museum that looks like a church and the trappings are a shade gothic. This could be seen as an echo of the pandemic with all of its emphasis on melancholy, physical touch and the vitality of holding hands.
If the Spielberg production has a little bit of added drear in the ubiquity of gray powder and solemn faces, there is still much to enjoy. The dances alone will race the heart in joyful surges and now there are no Hollywood oversights. All of the Latin American roles are performed by actors of Hispanic origin. Fans of this wonderful musical will find it full of authentic intention and pleasure.
Though “West Side Story” lessens ever so slightly in allure by not having the wondrous brightness of its predecessor, it makes up for it with a new empathy, deep in emotion and sentiment.
This version would make an excellent partner to “In the Heights.” Both films stand for inclusion and ethnic art but most specifically, these films speak for the uniqueness of human physical motion in troubled times.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org