I am going to start right off by saying YES! Like many I absolutely loved the original West Side Story movie. When it was announced that it was going to be remade, I was like “why?” find a new story to tell Hollywood. And then I found out that the reason I went to film school, Mr. Steven Spielberg himself, was directing.... well, I still was not sold. I mean if anyone could make a great film, it was him. But again, why do we even need to touch it? Then the casting came out. Who will be playing Tony? Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver and A Fault in Our Stars, will play the iconic character. New comer Rachel Zegler will play Maria.
So not much to go on right? Spielberg and the amazing music from the great Stephen Sondheim will have to carry this thing.
Movie night comes and we open up on The Jets and 1957 New York City. From the minute they entered the screen I was memorized. The Coloring of the film was beautiful and the wide camera shots painted the picture that the music was telling. Actor Mike Faist as Riff was a breath of fresh air and by that, I mean he was the streets. An unconventional smaller tough guy that made every scene more interesting when he was in it. Then what I was dreading the most, the dancing. The original movie was so fun, colorful and the choreography is the reason why so many theatre/dance kids have wanted to be in any production of the show they could get their hands on.
I have been a Choreographer since I was 13 years old and then I went to film school at 17, so when you get dance and film together, I can be a prickly pear. For me Spielberg has always had a way of making scenes in his movies feel intimate or exciting but capturing the dance and movement is not the same. There is a moment when The Jets are walking down the street with one adding into the bunch after another and then the moment hits when they start dancing together. The city hovering around them and I knew it was going to be a great ride.
The great casting does not stop at Mike Faist. David Alvarez as Bernardo did more than hold his own and brought a new shine to the character. Now let's talk about Rachel Zegler. Yes, she is captivating the minute you lay eyes on her but then she opens her mouth to sing and you are wondering where she has been hiding. She sings, acts, dances and feels more like a Maria than the original (no hate mail please).
I don’t know if you noticed but we didn’t see Ansel Elgort sing in any of the trailers for this film. All I could think about was, either he is a great singer and they want a big reveal or he is awful and they will rely on the other cast to pull him along. In all honesty I was surprised at how good he is. He is not amazing and he is defiantly not super interesting but he is a good singer and gets the job done. Anyone signing next to Rachel is not going to outshine her and I think this choice was perfect because he was a bonus to her. She was the gem and he was there to support her.
Now for my absolute favorite, Anita.
Since the first time I saw the original movie, I was in love with Anita. She was colorful and spunky and made her own moments. It was one of the first and only times I felt like I saw someone close to me in a movie. Unapologetic and strong but loving and intuitive. And Ariana DeBois is Anita through and through. In this movie you get two Anita’s because Rita Moreno, the original, is in the movie as well. I could write an article just on these two, but I don’t want to give too much away. The use of Rita in this movie is thoughtful and powerful.
You might be saying “but Val we already know the story”. You do, but Spielberg makes enough changes that new audiences will be able to relate to it and past fans will appreciate the care that was taken with the story, the characters and New York. Steven Spielberg wrote a love letter to West Side Story with this movie. Teaching us that in the big world changing and evolving around us, we all create our own smaller stories. We create fights and issues that feel like they are so big. At the end of the day the petty issues we have are small compared to the bigger picture.
Vivid colors, strong choreography, interesting and powerful casting along with some of the best cinematography I have seen in a musical. Good Job Mr. Spielberg.