Steven Spielberg’s eloquent and sleek “West Side Story” opens with the acquainted picture of the Jets prowling throughout New York Metropolis. They toss paint cans to at least one one other, gathering in bigger numbers as they slink and slide by the streets. Often, their strides break right into a dance transfer—a spin or a slide throughout the pavement—all the time in unison. It’s virtual as if they will assist it, as in the event that they want to precise themselves by motion. A lot of “West Side Story” is about that want, that sense of one thing beneath the floor that simply has to flee—restlessness, ardor, anger, displacement—the sense that “one thing’s coming” that so many individuals really feel once they’re younger. Instantly, one can really feel the craftsmanship of this restaging of the traditional Broadway smash. The digicam doesn’t simply seize motion on a set—it glides with the performers, and we glide together with them. The enhancing avoids the uneven rhythms of so many latest musicals, permitting viewers to really feel movement and connection. We’re immediately hooked and shall be for the following 2.5 hours.
Followers of the unique stage manufacturing and the beloved movie will argue over the necessity for a 2021 model of “West Side Story,” though restaging a traditional play is an annual occasion in main theaters all over the world. For some purpose, remakes in movies are extra typically seen as makes an attempt to supplant an authentic whereas theater goers are accustomed to the method of the latest voices deciphering traditional texts. The brand new voices listed below are these of absolute geniuses, together with Spielberg, author Tony Kushner (Angels in America), cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, choreographer Justin Peck, and a shocking ensemble of latest voices and gifted veterans. Kushner and Spielberg have stayed loyal to Stephen Sondheim’s work whereas additionally making notable adjustments in a manner that makes it contemporary and vibrant. They usually have staged their manufacturing in a manner that’s typically mesmerizing. One misguided casting determination holds it again from absolute greatness however there are such a lot of breathtaking, excellent sequences on this “West Side Story” that I believe it’ll do what the unique did for lots of people, together with this critic who was raised on film musicals—make them a fan of all the style.
The opening sequence units up the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks. The previous group of tough-talking New Yawkers is led by Riff (Mike Faist, giving one among a number of star-making performances within the movie), who’s bored with the Sharks taking town that he thinks belongs to him. Main the Puerto Rican Sharks is Bernardo (David Alvarez), a boxer who isn’t about to present an inch to anybody and who warns his sister Maria (Rachel Zegler) to by no means even have a look at a “gringo.” That doesn’t final lengthy. Maria, Bernardo, and his companion Anita (Ariana DeBose) go to a dance that night time the place Maria catches the attention of Tony (Ansel Elgort), a former Jet who’s making an attempt to go straight. Simply launched from jail after almost killing a man, Tony lives within the basement of the shop through which he works, watched over by a mom determine named Valentina (a transcendent Rita Moreno, who gained an Oscar for the primary movie and will accomplish that once more).
After all, anybody even vaguely accustomed to the Shakespeare-inspired authentic is aware that this New York Romeo falls exhausting for his Puerto Rican Juliet. And but Spielberg and Kushner discover new notes to hit in a musical that many know by coronary heart. The adjustments usually are not superficial however really feel like components that are being pulled out of the unique in a manner that 2021 audiences will see otherwise than these did in 1961, together with enriching the immigrant narrative on the heart of this piece. Characters like Maria, Bernardo, and Anita have a wealthy again the story that the unique by no means allowed, and Spielberg additionally permits his historical aspect to affect the take, opening the movie with a shot of the Lincoln Heart for the Performing Arts beneath building—a job that traditionally pushed immigrant communities out of that a part of town. A lot of “West Side Story” takes place towards a backdrop of crumbling facades or beneath the shadow of a wrecking ball. It’s a wonderful image of not solely a time when town and nation have been altering however the way it displays the unfinished nature of those younger folks searching for their lives to be constructed.
When it comes to efficiency, “West Side Story” makes instantaneous stars of a minimum of three folks: Mike Faist, Ariana DeBose, and Rachel Zegler. After all, theatre followers don’t want an introduction to DeBose, a Tony nominee who was within the authentic manufacturing of Hamilton. As anybody who is aware of the unique can let you know, DeBose will get the showstopper in “America,” and it is, without doubt, one of the cinematic highlights of the 12 months. Spielberg and Kushner pull the quantity down from the rooftops, sending Anita and her buddies by the streets, dancing and singing with such ardor that you may sense it by the digicam. Spielberg and Kaminski’s staging right here is gorgeous, shifting so gracefully across the performers in a manner that’s by no means distracting however solely designed to ensure you don’t miss a factor. The camerawork incorporates a bit of an excessive amount of lens flare nevertheless it’s the framing and fluidity that make it exemplary.
Faist and Zegler additionally discover that nicely of ardor that Riff and Maria want. However, Elgort not often looks like he’s on an identical web page. These characters must be virtually jittery with the adrenalin of youth—an uncontrollable feeling that leads them to bounce, to like, to combat. Everybody will get that however Elgort. He’s a clean slate within the first half, introduced barely to live by the melodrama however by no means sufficient to cease the ideas of what may have been with a performer who higher understood Tony’s desperation. He’s caught between friendship and love, figuring out that giving into both may ship him again to jail or worse. Elgort by no means conveys these stakes.
Fortunately, the whole lot around him does. Faist finds an exceptional vulnerability in the Riff; Zegler makes you consider that love has her feeling fairly; Alvarez nails the over-protective nature of males who go too far; DeBose has arguably the biggest vary from “America” to the tip of Anita’s tragic arc. After which there’s Rita Moreno. After I realized a second that she was about to have by way of one of many authentic songs from the present, I gasped. She grounds the ultimate act of the movie in a manner that it actually wants.
There’s a lot of magnificence on this “West Side Story.” It merges issues which have really formed popular culture from the sleek precision of Spielberg—who has all the time had a musical director’s eye by way of how he choreographs his scenes—to the masterful songwriting of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein to the good writing of Tony Kushner to the immigrant expertise on this nation. It grabs you from the very starting and takes you there. One way or the other, sometimes, someplace.