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The Mass Media

Should you see ‘West Side Story’?

Posters+for+the+new+%26%238220%3BWest+Side+Story%26%238221%3B+promote+the+show+in+the+streets+of+Boston+near+Kenmore.
Olivia Reid
Posters for the new “West Side Story” promote the show in the streets of Boston near Kenmore. Photo by Olivia Reid / Mass Media Staff

We are living in the middle of an endless barrage of remakes, sequels and adaptations, that much is undeniably true. Some of these works are better than others, but for some, the quality of the movies themselves doesn’t matter that much. They’re just sick of the repeats. So, with that being said, is there any particular selling point to watching “West Side Story,” a remake of the 1961 classic—which itself was an adaptation of a Broadway musical? Two words: Steven. Spielberg.
Having the most famous director of all time behind the camera is a heck of a selling point, but again, do we need more of the same? I would argue yes, for two reasons. For one, the original came out over sixty years ago. Enough time has passed for a remake to both introduce the story to a new audience and to find new angles and techniques in depicting a familiar story. Also, the original was very much made in 1961, for better and for worse. Despite the original having a significant portion of its characters from Puerto Rico, the casting wasn’t indicative of this. Maria, the female lead, is Puerto Rican. Yet, in the original she is played by Natalie Wood. While there were Latinx actors in the original, the level of representation was not where it should have been. The remake works to improve on this. As Spielberg stated at the film’s premiere, and Marc Malkin for Variety transcribed:
“​​This is the way we are in this world. This is where we should have always been, but this is very important, especially in ‘West Side Story.’ We have to get it right. It’s not that other productions didn’t get it right in their own way, but I just did not want to make this reimagining without complete representation [and] authentic representation from the entire Latinx community. That was the most important thing” (1).
So, with that all out of the way, how good is “West Side Story”? Again, it was directed by Spielberg and recently was nominated for an Academy Award, so it obviously has some degree of quality. However, it is for a specific type of taste. If you don’t like musicals—and not everyone does—then this isn’t the movie for you. If you prefer modern music to older classics, then you probably won’t enjoy how faithful this remake stays to the original songs.
For the musical lovers or even tolerators, I would say that this film is fantastic. There is a certain level of craft in every shot that managed to blow me away every second of the movie’s two and a half hour runtime. Janusz Kaminski, the film’s cinematographer, deserves a high level of praise for his work here. He constantly keeps the camera moving to keep the viewer engaged and works to depict each scene in as interesting a way as possible.
The film’s musical sequences are also outstanding, in terms of both song and dance. The choreography is especially impressive, in both the way the characters dance and in the ways the people around them move. The movie has no shame in being staged; it celebrates it instead. It seeks to impress its viewers with the scale of the “stage.” A camera can follow someone anywhere, so whereas a musical set in a theater can do inventive and exciting things with its limited locations, a movie can let loose. What makes this remake work is the fact that it understood this. There was a sense of scale to “West Side Story” that was simply extremely impressive.
If there was one considerable flaw in the film, I would say it was in the central romance between Tony and Maria. It just felt like something was missing. Maybe it was a lack of chemistry, a missing scene or something indescribable, but it just didn’t do it for me. The film works emotionally in other ways, with its themes of race and gentrification in America feeling especially relevant in our modern discourse. Yet, when it came to a personal, one-on-one connection between the main two characters, I just felt that it fell flat. However, that’s simply just my opinion, so if you want to watch this film for its romance, feel free to decide for yourself. “West Side Story” is currently streaming on Disney+ and HBO Max.
1. https://variety.com/2021/film/columns/steven-spielberg-west-side-story-ariana-debose-casting-1235131192/

About the Contributors
Kyle Makkas, Humor Writer
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor