Watch West Side Story
West Side Story, released in 2021, is a sweeping reimagining of the beloved musical that burst onto Broadway in 1957 before being adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1961. Directed by the iconic Steven Spielberg, this vibrant retelling carries the timeless tale into a new generation, injecting it with a fresh visual flair and emotional depth that resonates with modern audiences while remaining faithful to the original’s spirit.
Set in the mid-20th century, the narrative is anchored in New York City's Upper West Side, which at the time is undergoing a significant transformation. Through the lens of the city's vigorous shake-up, described with often lyrical visuals, West Side Story spotlights the powerful themes of love, prejudice, and the collision of cultures.
The film revolves around two rival street gangs: the Jets, composed of white working-class youths, and the Sharks, a group of Puerto Rican immigrants. The tension between these two factions serves as a backdrop for a passionate and tragic love story. The young Tony, portrayed by Ansel Elgort, is a former Jet who's striving to leave his past behind and find a new path in life. His journey becomes complicated when he falls in love with Maria, played by newcomer Rachel Zegler, whose dazzling performance as the innocent yet strong-hearted sister of the Sharks' leader captures the nuances of young love and the pain of divided loyalties.
Tony and Maria’s forbidden romance serves as the eye of the storm in the brewing conflict between the Jets and the Sharks. As tensions escalate and both sides brace for a climactic rumble, the characters engage in a heart-wrenching struggle against the destructive prejudices that surround them.
Musically, the film pays homage to the original compositions by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The iconic songs like "Tonight," "America," "Maria," and "Somewhere" are meticulously revamped, showcasing powerhouse vocals and orchestration that hearkens back to the golden age of musicals while embracing modern sensibilities in terms of arrangement and performance.
Ariana DeBose delivers a standout performance as Anita, the fiery and determined girlfriend of the Sharks' leader Bernardo, who wrestles with her loyalty to her community and her desire for a better life. DeBose’s rendition of "America" in particular is infused with dynamic choreography that perfectly encapsulates the vibrancy and complexity of her character’s experience as a Puerto Rican woman navigating two worlds.
The film’s choreography, crafted by Justin Peck, stands as a homage to the iconic work of Jerome Robbins, who choreographed the original stage production and co-directed the 1961 film. While the dance sequences echo the powerful athleticism and grace of the original, they are infused with a contemporary energy, making the balletic confrontations between the Jets and the Sharks feel as urgent and incisive as ever.
Spielberg's direction is masterful, with every shot meticulously crafted to communicate the emotion and tension of the moment. The cinematography, by Janusz Kaminski, captures the characters' internal and external worlds with a rich color palette and innovative camera work, bringing 1950s New York to life in dazzling detail. The setting is a character in itself: the changing cityscape, with its towering skyscrapers and decaying tenements, reflects the tumultuous change and the clash of dreams that define the story's heart.
Equally important to the storytelling is the film’s attention to cultural specificity. Spielberg's production consulted with Puerto Rican artists and cultural experts to enhance the authenticity of the Sharks' experience and give voice to the broader Puerto Rican community's experiences, complexities, and hopes. The film explores themes of identity and belonging through this cultural lens, providing a richer and more nuanced portrayal than its predecessors.
Moreover, the screenplay by Tony Kushner weaves deeper social commentary into the narrative, providing a more thorough exploration of the systemic issues that fuel gang violence and racial animosity. There's a sense of gravitas to the characters’ situations, allowing audiences to empathize with their sufferings on a deeper level.
West Side Story, in its 2021 adaptation, is a resonant and visually spectacular film that both honors and revitalizes the legacy of its source material. It ignites the age-old tale of star-crossed lovers and societal strife with a newfound urgency that demands attention from a contemporary audience. Spielberg's evocative retelling, along with stellar performances and a timeless score, ensures that the film joins the ranks of classic musical cinema, bridging the past and present in a dazzling dance of storytelling and song.
West Side Story is a 2021 crime movie. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 7.2 and a MetaScore of 85.