“West Side Story” Movie Review

Story posted December 15, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Camila Rodríguez.

60 years after its original release, the legendary musical “West Side Story” came back to the big screen.  With the original film winning more than 10 Academy Awards, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake had a lot to live up to.

The 1961 classic is a modern take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  The movie is set in New York, where two rivaling street gangs—The Jets and The Sharks— stand in the way of Tony and Maria’s love. 

The conflict of the musical quickly unveils after Riff, Jet’s leader, invites Tony to the dance.  Problems arise after Tony kisses Maria, the Sharks leader’s sister. 

Even though Tony and Maria’s forbidden love triggers the rumble between the two gangs, their rivalry was more profound. Both Jets and Sharks, hate each other because of their xenophobia and discrimination. The Jets are Caucasian, but The Sharks are Puerto Rican.

Throughout the film, the differences between the gangs were evident in the cast, costumes and color choices.  The movie has a prevalent theme of discrimination, which can be seen when both gangs use racial slurs “spiks” and “gringo”. 

Despite portraying the racial tensions between both groups, the movie also depicts the possibility of unity through the characters Valentina, Tony and Maria.

One of the most notable differences between the original and modern version of the movie is the representation of the latinx community. The original West Side Story was controversial in its depiction of Puerto Ricans for multiple reasons. 

For instance, only one of the cast members of the Puerto Rican gang was actually latinx—Rita Moreno.  The rest of the cast members were white, but wore brown makeup and faked latinx accents.

For this 2021 remake, there was significant progress in latinx representation. The film featured latinx actors such as Rita Moreno, David Alvarez and Ana Isabelle. Despite staying clear of painting their actors brown, they should have cast a latinx lead. 

Rachel Zegler’s performance as Maria was not terrible, but she should have been Puerto Rican.  Speaking Spanish was a big part of her role and for any latinx watching the movie, it is clear that she does not know how to speak it. Despite this, she had a great voice and nailed the songs “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight”.

Even though Rachel Zegler’s performance was not exceptional, Ansel Elgort’s role as Tony did not disappoint.  Since “West Side Story’s” plot is based on Shakespeare, it can be overdramatic.  However, Ansel Elgort managed to depict reality even with the irrational choices his character made. 

Other roles worthy of mentioning were Ariana DeBose as Anita, Mike Fraist as the Riff and David Alvarez as Bernardo.

Overall, this new version of “West Side Story” was very well executed.  The movie has fantastic visuals, great dance numbers and amazing actors.  If you are not a fan of the 1960’s version, give the 2021 remake a try.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Camila Rodríguez is a second-year majoring in communications. To contact her, email car6323@psu.edu​