West Side Story (2021)
December 10, 2021 3:45 PM - Subscribe

Two youngsters from rival New York City gangs fall in love, but tensions between their respective friends build toward tragedy. Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler (in her feature film debut) with Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, and Rita Moreno.
posted by rogerroger (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We saw it today and thought it was just beautiful. Terrific all around—acting, singing, and dancing. Even Baby Driver was good, and we weren’t expecting that.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 4:51 PM on December 11, 2021

I saw it w my mother who, at 10, was obsessed with the original and initially had refused to see this version (the good reviews swayed her), and we both thought it was fantastic. It had great choreography and didn't have cuts every second so we got to see dancing, the costumes did a good nod to the originals while not being copies, the increased backstory was well done. I liked the change to the timing of Cool, Officer Krupke was great -- in general showing the Jets as younger and doing teen style hijinks with their friends helped me find them somewhat more sympathetic.

Found A Boy Like That horrifying -- Maria telling Anita she loves Tony, who she met one day ago, who killed her brother, Anita's lover, and that she wanted Anita to forgive him as she came back from identifying his body, and then when she accepts Anita can't, asks her to send him a message. (Not that this is significantly different in the original, I just didn't remember it that well.)

I didn't find that Valentina's response to Anita's assault was an effective scene, sadly, but that was my main issue.

For a 2h15 movie it flew by.
posted by jeather at 5:28 PM on December 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

I loved this movie. So well done. And a partner to the first movie - I didn't feel like it was trying to 'replace' the original in any way, just another take on it. The audio, heard in a movie theater, was magical and I hope everyone who wants to see this movie gets the chance to see it with great sound. Rachel Zegler as Maria was absolutely transportive. Her voice is so pure, beautiful and lacking in affectation. But basically EVERYONE was so well-cast! Incredible!

Agree jeather, A Boy Like That hit differently to me too. Especially when Maria sings "You were in love, or so you said" to Anita... Whaaa, that is cruel, Bernardo has been dead for like 10 minutes. However, a couple thoughts - in this movie, the Maria/Bernardo bond is not as strong, they seem to imply that Maria was in P.R. taking care of their older family member for many years (?) and relates to Bernardo more as extended family/enforcer (maybe closer to the original Romeo & Juliet, where Tybalt was Juliet's cousin?). So maybe she's less affected by his death. Also, this movie really fills out Bernardo and Anita's relationship, and Anita is given more dimension and depth, so we are really seeing her grieve Bernardo.

I liked the additional backstory/characterization for Tony, he comes off as more flawed and contradictory in this version instead of the more idealistic and earnest version in the original.

I left the theater briefly for the Anita attempted assault scene, because I didn't want to subject myself to that. But then in the final minutes, Rachel Zegler was radiant again. I am surprised that I could both LOVE this version and also LOVE the original version so much.
posted by rogerroger at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I saw it a few days ago and it's really staying with me. I'm bummed it's not doing better box-office-wise but not surprised, since my first reaction when I heard about it was annoyance - and I'm a huge musical theater nerd. But I didn't understand why they wanted to remake it, what was the point.

Within literally the opening scene (where you see that the neighborhood is being demolished for Lincoln Center) I understood. I love that the script was re-written by Tony Kushner (and a huge number of collaborators). He put the original story in historical context and fleshed out the characters within that context and made the story so much more meaningful than I've ever found it.

I've seen both the play and the movie so many times (was even in a very bad high school production) and this is literally the first time I've ever found myself wondering what happened to the surviving characters after it ended. Did Maria and Anita reconcile? Did they stay in NYC? Did Anita go back to PR? Did Maria go to City College? (In my headcannon, she did, and became a social worker and organizer after being radicalized in the late 60s, and she just retired a few years ago from her job as a college professor)

Also, as a trans person, the way they changed Anybodys portrayal just ... it was beautiful. Turning Anybodys from a "confused" object of scorn and pity, to someone who knows who he is, even if everyone else doesn't, who's so tough and fights so hard for survival and dignity ... I loved it. And it was also very historically accurate.

(Side note to people who wonder helplessly how you can have queer characters in historical fiction/drama: this is how. You research what it was actually like for those queer people in that period of time, and you have the characterization/plot reflect that reality. I can't help but contrast this with how The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, which takes place in the same city, at the same time, mishandled the character of Suzie by refusing to acknowledge that she's gay. This is how you do it!)
posted by lunasol at 11:58 AM on December 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Saw it tonight and found it to be incredible. I’m so so glad it was made.

I have no recollection of seeing the original, so I went in with only the base cultural understanding of it, plus familiarity with some of the music from doing a marching band field show 22 years ago. The details of the story were a fresh discovery for me, and how the songs fit the plot.

I’m emotionally wrung out in the best way. Good singing, great choreography. And even though the hopeless violence of the kids was really distressing to watch, I appreciated how visceral the emotions were throughout. Even knowing the fate of the characters, I still wished with all my heart that they would find a way to de-escalate the conflict and move forward.

Maybe I wish we could’ve gotten a little more perspective from/for Bernardo.

But, yeah, this is going to stick with me, and I look forward to doing a double feature with In The Heights at some point in the future.
posted by itesser at 10:47 PM on December 22, 2021

I thought it was really well done and I enjoyed it but I just couldn't buy Baby Driver as Tony. He stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the Jets and he didn't really manage to sell the OH MY GOD THIS GIRL that you need to make the whole thing hang together, either?

But otherwise, the cinematography, the costuming, the dancing, it was all great and a deserving remake of a classic, no doubt. Just the minor problem with the male lead, which is sort of a shame.

And yeah, it's been a while since I saw it - I grew up with the Kiri Te Kanawa / José Carreras studio recording and I knew a lot of the lyrics by heart as a kid, and 30 years later I pretty much only remembered the major thematic structure. Oof, time.
posted by Kyol at 11:44 AM on March 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

"I just couldn't buy Baby Driver as Tony. He stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the Jets "

Yeah, I feel like he has a really modern face. There are some actors who stick out like sore thumbs in period pieces because they look inescapably modern, and Elgort looks really 21st-century and not at all 1950.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:22 PM on March 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Okay, non-Ansel-Elgort thoughts. It's been a LONG time since I saw the musical on stage or the original movie -- probably both when I was a freshman in high school and doing Romeo & Juliet in English class. So I can't compare too much between productions. But ...

I had forgotten how effective an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet West Side Story really is. I haaaaaaaate that play (I was not a teenager who fell madly in love in instants, so I did not "relate" the way high school English teachers wanted us to relate), but West Side Story creates a story of rivalries, violence, and infatuation that I can buy into, and be like, "Yeah, okay, I get why these people are making such impulsive decisions." There were also a number of effective staging/filming decisions that brought to mind the play (like Tony and Valentina in the basement, like Romeo in the tomb).

I thought this was visually-stunning, and the color stories in the costumes were so effective. Not just the red/blue, but the warm/cool tones that carried it across the color spectrum so that yellowy greens were clearly Sharks and bluey greens were clearly Jets. Also the shots of the buildings (and the credits coda, with the shadows dancing across them!).

Because it's been so long since I listened to the soundtrack (except for the biggies like "Tonight" and "America"), I hadn't realized how much "The Rumble" references Prokofiev's ballet and "The Death of Tybalt" in the brassy instrumentation, the jarring chords and sharp rhythms, the rise and fall of the fight music. I was like, "Oh, hey, Bernstein loves this ballet too!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:46 PM on March 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I missed this in theaters, but it's streaming now. It's on both Disney+ and HBOMax - seems unusual it's available on both, but I don't know much about licensing - and the latter also has the 1961 version available as well.

It's absolutely gorgeous film making, and definitely worth a watch (or several). Ariana DeBose is stunning as Anita, so glad she got an Oscar nomination, but the cast overall is great.

I admit to not being excited about a remake - the original still holds up, watch both if you have the opportunity. But it has been 50 years and we get a new Batman/Spiderman every decade at minimum, so this is hardly an egregious retread.

It's not a wildly different take, storywise; you can tell Speilberg is a fan of the original and having a ball putting his spin on it. It does complicate the lead characters a bit, and ground the story more explicitly in reality between gorgeous dance numbers. My favorite change was moving "Cool" before the big fight and making it Tony's attempt to talk Riff down. Mike Faist was also incredibly compelling as Riff.

In hopes that this thread might pick up again with streaming availability and the best picture nomination, I'll add this twitter thread from Guillermo del Toro praising his competition (for best picture, del Toro did not get a director nod this year).
posted by the primroses were over at 12:13 PM on March 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I don't care for West Side Story, Ansel Elgort, or New York romanticism, but I did like this, and it was impressive. The "America" number is great, and I was like Anita better win the Oscar, damn.

WSS was one of the few albums my sister and I had as kids, and could play on our record player. I remember only really liking "Officer Krupke" and I think child me was onto something because that number in this movie is so amazing.

Also it made me think what dog crap the Hugh Jackman etc Les Mis adaptation was.

The end credits were really beautiful after all that heart-wringing passion. I can see why it's lifting some people up; it all felt like a big gorgeous thing.
posted by fleacircus at 7:25 PM on March 10, 2022

Also this shadows shot was great.
posted by fleacircus at 7:33 PM on March 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

I liked so many things about this film. But what I didn't like was all the extra talking. So much talking. Guys, this is a musical. And the thing is, most of the extra layers that all the added dialogue puts in--most of those are already there in Spielberg's visuals. All those long speeches could be cut down to a line or two without losing a thing.

West Side Story is so good because it's so universal. It doesn't matter how long Tony's been in the pen. It could just be mentioned as an aside. All that self-searching could be expressed in just a look on screen. So many extra details, extra words, they don't improve the story. That said, they really did do some things that DID improve the story. They just could've done so while keeping the movie 40 minutes shorter and keeping the pace moving from song to song without the long stretches of talking.
posted by rikschell at 3:18 PM on April 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's good, except for Tony who has about as much personality as a soggy sandwich. Not that Richard Beymer was any better. But I wanted to tell Maria: "Girl! You are so much better than this! DTMFA!"

I also thought Riff was too scrawny to be convincing as a gang leader -- he's built like a dancer (which he is! a really good one, too!) but Russ Tamblyn's dances were powerful. Agree with rikschell that there was too much explaining. You don't need to spend 5 min telling us that Robert Moses is tearing up the West Side to build Lincoln Center, when your opening shots are of literal wrecking balls.

Comparisons aside, it was really well done. Well worth the watch.
posted by basalganglia at 6:47 PM on April 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

Watched it last week finally. Thoughts. !! I adore the original and it's in my very bones and brain for all time and thus I resisted. But about halfway in I decided it was not a remake but a reinterpretation, it helped a lot. I was happiest that other than a few moments, they left the music alone. But- in those moments, I did not think the decision to change musical elements paid of at all, so those still made not much sense to me.

Giving the characters more backstory was great, especially knowing this film would be seen be far more people without my encyclopedic knowledge of the show. Bernardo is a boxer- YES! Makes perfect sense. Tony is an ex-con? Okay! Yes- that makes his choices much clearer (he's on parole and would go back inside if he even hung out with the Jets). Did I buy Elgort as someone who'd spent even 5 minutes inside? No! But at least it was there for me to understand.

My #1 issue was- the greatly expanded cultural, economic and character-based universe that the music now overlaid and integrated with had many more points of if not incongruity, at least dissonance (not the musical kind). Like the Maria/Anita scene mentioned above... the story needed Anita to forgive Maria and set aside her anger and grief enough to go to the drugstore, etc. and in the original, you're already buying into it they way you need to, to accept this outcome. In this version, how in the hell are we supposed to buy this? No way would THIS Anita do that for Maria. It was one of (if not the most) egregious moments of disbelief.

Corey Stoll's Schrank was also problematic for me. His character was one that vs. the original was wholly "rewritten" in that the chose to frame him with far more savvy than the brutish head-smasher he was (I always envisioned Schrank as the worst version of NYPD Blue's Andy Sipowicz). Did the new Schrank improve the story? I still can't tell. The near-total absence of adult presence/relevance in the original was something that seemed like such a strong, conscious choice to me. This made the impact they did have much clearer. Too much Schrank (like too much Valentina) shifted the balance so much that I felt the story lost a great deal of the through-line it was meant to have. Perhaps that's the (overlong) version of me saying the same thing - too much talking. It's a musical, not a play; to over-play the musical pudding makes it impossible to discern the flavors we are meant to be tasting.

Speaking of Rita Moreno's Valentina......... Sigh. I absolutely loved that she was part of the cast. That she was partly dubbed in the original never sat well with me so I was happy to see her get to sing "Somewhere." But. Whether it was direction, or her own choices, her character (to me) came across as passive, enabling and just... wrong. I won't go so far as to say I hated it, but... I kind of hated it. In the Anita taunting scene, I was expecting her to GO. OFF. at these kids and it was just... nothing. Sadness. Resignation. She called them rapists, in a tone of voice that was less angry than she used when Riff stole a 5-cent candy bar. For me, her character (and casting) was a choice that did not pay off, did not help the story, and actually made it worse. Can anyone point me to more reading that might help explain what drove the decision to cast her in this manner, and the resulting story changes?

In the original, Doc (as pretty much the only adult who has any dialogue of note, and any impact on the story), makes more sense. He's barely hanging on, and supporting Tony is perhaps the one tiny glimmer of hope or meaning he has in life. But even Doc knows that the violence in the gang kids points to a future he (Doc) will not be part of. He sees their future, he knows in his jaded old heart that Tony will never make it out alive, and likely he will not either.

Valentina's the literal last one standing (the destruction all around the store was such a statement). But as a person, there was none of the same resoluteness or fire in her person. The building still stood, but she was already torn down. Perhaps my hopes were too high.

I did love the new take on Chino. Of everyone, he became a real person in a way I never expected, or knew I needed. The Clark Kent-ness of Chino removing his glasses and getting down at the dance was a delight. And the fleshed-out character made his later choices much more powerful.

In this Chino, they were able to represent yet another very important element in the immigration story. Chino was poised to become one of the "ones who succeeded and made it out" that Schrank monologues about earlier. If Chino had stayed on track, he might have ended up in Westchester. But here, he's the Shark's version of Tony. He could have made it, but gang proximity took him down. Why was he drawn to the gang culture? He had a good job and better prospects than anyone. So why did he want to be Bernardo's BF? What drove him to kill? I found myself wishing so much for a full Chino backstory. By the end I cared a lot more about what happened to Chino than about Maria.

And man, I loved Mike Faist's Riff. Just loved it. I felt Vincent D'Onofrio-level vibes coming off him. In his scenes with Elgort it felt like he was just in a wholly different movie. Cannot wait to see what he does next.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 6:12 AM on August 7, 2022

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