West Side Story review: A promising start



Movie poster for West Side Story featuring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler.

Gennie Dimmerling, Staff Writer

     “I can kill now because I hate now,” said Maria, heartbroken by her forbidden loves’ death while waving the gun around that was used to shoot her beloved Tony. 

     When watching the 2021 adaptation of the classic 1961 version of West Side Story, viewers are taken back to a timeless film that showcases gang wars and racism, along with the inclusion of musical elements and ideas from the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet

     This story takes place in the Upper West Side of New York City in 1957, where two young adults see each other from across the gym floor at a school dance and knew it was love at first sight. The two main characters of this tragic love story are Tony Wyzek who is played by Ansel Elgort and Maria Nunez who is played by Rachel Zegler. 

     This young love is torn apart by two rival gangs, the Jets who were the white American gang and the Sharks who were the Puerto Rican gang, both battling for control over the turf. After many hardships throughout the movie such as Riff, leader of the Jets, and Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, deaths during the rumble along with miscommunication and in the end Tony’s death, Maria is left to pick up the pieces. 

     Maria proclaims how foul the rival has gotten and how it just leads to tragedy after tragedy. With Tony’s death and Maria’s speech, by the end of the movie the two gangs put aside their differences to carry Tony off of the pavement where he died. 

     With this being a remake of the 1961 West Side Story, people are bound to compare the two. 

     When comparing the 1961 film to the 2021 adaptation, there are some slight differences between the two. The first movie brings more of a traditional feel on screen, while the newer one brings a new light on the creative aspect of the movie. 

     Though there are some creative contrasts such as some choreography, costume, and music alterations, the majority of the two movies are somewhat similar. The only true major difference would be the more diverse casting. 

     When it came to casting the 1961 film, Natalie Wood, of Russian descent, and George Charkiris, of Greek descent, both had to apply tan makeup to appear Puerto Rican. Even Rita Moreno who played Valentina in the first rendition of the movie had to wear tan makeup even though she was a Puerto Rican-born American.

     Moreno not only got the opportunity to play Valentina in the 1961 version of West Side Story, but also got to come back to play Doc’s wife in the 2021 version. In the original film there was a character named Doc who was almost like a father figure to Tony, but in the newer reconstruction of the movie there’s only Doc’s wife. 

     This can be perceived as a good creative alteration because in one scene where the Jets sexually assault Anita, Doc’s wife comes in as a more powerful figure when she interferes. She’s a much more powerful figure than Doc would have been in this scene because she was so disappointed and disgusted by these men since she is a woman who is Puerto Rican and once experienced that kind of harassment. 

     During this scene Tony is the only Jet that is not present which seems ironic because of who was casted. This scene causes people to believe the movie is almost hypocritical because they casted their lead male role to a person who has sexually assault allegations against him. 

     In June of 2020, a women accused Elgort of sexually assaulting her in 2014 while she was 17 and he was 20. This was a very big deal in Elgort’s career and still is to this day. Some say this had affect on how well the movie did due to viewers not wanting to support a movie that casted someone with sexual assault allegations as one of their main characters, on top of bad marketing.

     Despite this, the remake had a more vibrant style when it came to the individuality of the film compared to the more traditional manner of the original movie. Though the movie did not do as well as expected like Spider-Man No Way Home which came out around the same time, it still was good and created new light on its artistic profile. 

     This movie remake is definitely one to be seen and recognized for its artistic creativity by all of those involved.