West Side Story is amazing. There’s no doubting that. The love in which Steven Spielberg puts into this film, the heart. He’s never done a musical before, but he directs West Side Story like a pro. The cast doesn’t hurt the film either, Rachel Zegler shines as Maria, and we can never get enough of Rita Moreno as Valentina. The cinematography (as shown in the image below) is wonderful, and the songs and score are Oscar-worthy.
My initial thoughts on this film coming out: Everything was great, no issues at all. Once I had a bit of time to reflect on it, though, I did discover issues. One of them: Ansel Elgort and David Alvarez. Sure, they both were fine actors, but they simply could not compare to their partners. Elgort couldn’t keep up with Rachel Zegler, and Alvarez fell behind Ariana DeBose. The only other issue I had, the editing. For the most part, it was great, but every now and then, there would be brief period where it would cut directly to the next scene, abruptly.
When I mean abruptly, I mean the music stops abruptly, the visuals cut abruptly and move to the next scene with no explanation, everything just switches for no apparent reason. It’s strange that the editors (who are extremely experienced) would make a mistake like this, so I’m inclined to think it was just an issue in my theater, or in the file, but it impacted my viewing experience enough to make it into this review.
As for the characters, well, they are a bit more complicated. Rachel Zegler is the standout, her wit and charm bring out a new side of Maria. Zegler pairs well with Ansel Elgort, and even though in the end, Elgort can’t keep up, their chemistry throughout the film works so well together. Speaking of Elgort, he plays Tony with the ambition of greatness. If he had lowered the expectation that he had set for himself, by just a little bit, he could’ve had greatness in his hands, and an Oscar. The only reason he didn’t was because he tried too hard. A lot of people say there’s no such thing. I disagree. Try too hard at any one thing, and you fail. No matter what, you will fail. That’s not to say Elgort failed, but he did try a bit too hard.
My two favorite members of the supporting cast, since it’s too hard to pick one: Rita Moreno (Valentina, Tony’s grandma) and Ariana DeBose (Bernardo’s fiancee). Moreno and DeBose share only one scene, but in that one scene, it’s so emotionally powerful that their dynamic drove me to tears, one of many times in this film. Moreno with her seniority and wisdom, and DeBose with her youth and inexperience in life. The other interesting dynamic in the supporting cast is Mike Faist (Riff, leader of the Jets), and David Alvarez (Bernardo, leader of the Sharks). They fight a lot, and aren’t afraid to get bloodied up, but Riff and Bernardo share a bond, in ways they don’t even realize. They’re both willing to die for their “family”, and will do anything for them.
West Side Story is a wonderful film, and it’s exactly the type of film the world needs right now. In this time of fear, it’s important to realize the amazing positives in life, but it’s also important to realize the terrifying negatives. This film shows the best of both categories, and I would gladly take another trip to the theater to see it. The chemistry between actors is unbreakable, and the cinematography, directing, and score are Oscar-worthy. The acting and writing levels in this film also deserve Academy recognition. Directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Tony Kushner, starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, West Side Story is playing exclusively in theaters now.
Overall Grade: A