Review: West Side Story (2021)

West Side Story (2021) screenshot

Year: 2021 | Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Was West Side Story a remake that needed to happen? Now, listen, I know that a lot of people enjoyed this, but hear me out: By updating the visuals to modern standards and giving this film a grittier tone than the 1961 original, director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner have done a disservice to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s songs by creating a tonal dissonance that modern audiences might be more inclined to blame on those songs due to them being the “outdated” part of the equation.

And that’s even if you consider the modern update a good thing. There’s certainly some impressive camerawork here, but this film lacks the vivid color and constant motion of the original, sapping the story of its energy, which sadly made this remake a bit of chore to get through. I felt every single second of the 158-minute runtime, which is not something that I can say about the original, despite it having an almost identical runtime (152 minutes).

The fact of the matter is that this is a very basic story. We all read/saw Romeo & Juliet in school, and most of us have seen multiple adaptations of that story, even if we don’t realize it. Any adaptation of that story needs to have something that sets it apart from the rest and adds something new and unique to the predictable and well-trodden story. The original West Side Story accomplishes that with its extravagant color and lively energy, along with impeccably-crafted songs and social commentary that relates its centuries-old story to modern times. This updated version not only lacks those first two components, but it suffers from the last two having been done by a frankly better film (even though it is still a well-crafted film).

West Side Story (as in the original film) still holds up after 60+ years. There’s really no reason for this remake to exist when you can just revisit that masterpiece whenever you wish.

Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Romance, Crime, Drama, Musical
Runtime: 2 hr. 36 min.
Rating: PG-13

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist

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