West side story - remake love, sublime love 2021

REVIEW: West Side Story is the early love story that doesn't work these days

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New adaptation of the Broadway musical, Amor, sublime amor (West Side Story) recalls inconsequential love

When it comes to adapting anything for the big screen, there's always a push and pull. How much of the story do you change, what elements resonate with you, how do you bring the story to the time when you're doing it. Sometimes the movie will go up without any complaints, other times the movie will falter. The last one is how I feel about West Side Story, the new adaptation of the Steven Spielberg film.

Honestly, I'm really tired of so many remakes (even Disney ones). I miss the times when creating stories was more interesting than just holding back nostalgia. I must say that I haven't seen the first movie from the 1960s. So here there will be no comparisons to the original, just my points about this 2021 version.

I don't know who decided that putting Romeo and Juliet as an example of true love would be a good idea, because who knows and has read the original work, basically, it's the story of two horny teenagers who didn't know anything about life and whose relationship practically wiped out the two entire families, not to mention the double death. It's not about love, it's about inconsistency. That's why the story is known as Shakespeare's tragedy.

Well then West Side Story is the story of a passion between two young men, Maria (Rachel Zegler) and Tony – Anton (Ansel Elgort), Maria being a Puerto Rican, and Tony a Yankee, who is part of the Jets gang. The rivalry between the Jets and the Puerto Ricans is getting too big for them to agree, so that fact makes Tony and Maria's sudden relationship even more impossible. And with rivals going to war, tragedy sets in to derail the two lovebirds.

West Side Story Productions

The first time the production reached the public was through the Broadway musical in 1957, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold Prince, with songs by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The play was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Musical in 1957.

Soon after the success of the musical, the film version that everyone knows was released in 1961, and it was so highly acclaimed, not only among the public, but for the specialized critics as well. The film won 10 Oscars, including Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. And Rita Moreno, who played Anitta, was the first Latino woman to win the award.

The problems in the narrative

First, when talking about a remake from a movie from the 1960s to 2021, I expected a lot more something current. The film is still set in the 60's. Points for the costumes that are rocking! But honestly, the appeal of the story didn't enchant me at all. I've never been a person enchanted by sudden love stories, so no, I don't like Shakespeare's work. The quick two days when Maria and Tony meet each other “and fall madly in love” seem even worse from today's eyes. Nobody can love in two days. Love comes from a long journey of building.

If it was meant to be romantic, for me did not work.

You can understand their interest in each other. Maria is a beautiful, intelligent and very capable girl, and Tony has his charm. So I see the appeal to an interest rather than the overwhelming passion the film wants to sell you on. But it all becomes even worse when Maria still accepts Tony even after her brother dies, knowing what he did, and not only that, but she still sleeps with him! The whole construction of making the character minimally intelligent is thrown away in this scene, and it makes her look even more naive and silly, like a 14-year-old teenager (hello juliet!) and not the woman who claims to be 18 years old.

Love, sublime love (west side story)
Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in West Side Story – 2021 – Credits: Disney / 20th Century Studios

Why not explore and develop their relationship more consistently? They go out only once for a date, and there they basically “self-marry” (!!!) and I didn't understand a thing! How do they want to get married? You guys just met!

Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner had the opportunity to create a story that could be looked at by today's eyes, but they chose to stagnate in the 1960s. disappointing.

There's one scene that was certainly created to be impactful and it's the only one that works. Rita Moreno, who is present in this film, playing Valentina, as the owner of Doc's, saves Anita from the Jets after a scene of harassment, and clearly calls them rapists, in addition to having the other girls also fighting so that the guys don't hurt her. . It was the closest to any positive emotion I felt in the film. It was a very well-constructed scene and, from what I've been told, a response to the original film where Moreno's character suffers the same.

Actions to be desired

Ansel Elgort is a much better singer than I thought he would be, even if he's not that great, but his version of Tony is burdened with the story of not just going to jail for a year, but for almost killing someone. Do you need to add an additional red flag to a character to make it more interesting to foreshadow that he's going to kill Bernardo (David Alvarez)?

Maria, played convincingly and sung with gusto by Rachel Zegler, and she has a lot more screen time than her other versions of the same story. Her singing “I feel pretty” at the store where she works as a cleaner was definitely what landed her the role of Snow White at Disney.

West side story - remake of the 1960 version
Credits: Disney / 20th Century Studios

But even though both are minimally interesting in their roles, they have zero chemistry on screen. Elgort doesn't deliver the passion necessary to convince you that they're really in love. And even though Zegler was so amazing with her voice, she didn't convince me of her passion. I couldn't care less about them, even if the story is about them.

I was much more interested in knowing about the lives of these young people, who have to fight to survive in a world that doesn't present them with opportunity, in knowing more about Anita and her dream of becoming a great stylist than in the torrid romance between Maria and Tony.

The Beauty of Filmography

Despite all the struggles this movie has, there are some things it absolutely gets right. Mike Faist is undisputed as Riff, the leader of the Jets. From singing to acting, Faist has one of the best performances of the year. He's absolutely magnetic any moment he's on screen, managing to channel the external harshness and put on the bravado he needs to sell this character. 

Also, the staging and sequencing of the song was pretty stellar. Ironically, I found the dance performances much more interesting than all the sung songs. Moments when the characters just danced spoke a lot more than any lyrics in the movie.

West side story - love, sublime love
Technical aspects in West Side Story are breathtaking! – Credits: Disney / 20th Century Studios

Of course, I cannot fail to praise the costumes of this film and the choice of color palette that is exceptional, beautiful and of breathtaking. A true work of art. The scene of Anita and the other women dancing to “America” is a real spectacle for the eyes. And all this added to the photography that is spectacular. What failed in story and chemistry between the main actors, got it right in technical concepts.

Ironically, the song America – made famous by the piece and later by the 1961 adaptation, is a key to the “American dream” sold left and right by American marteking. Women sing about the perks of living in the US, while men respond to the country's structural problems regarding opportunity and racism. And during all the lyrics that hang on a tightrope between praise and criticism, the show that follows with the dances is a real spectacle.

And perhaps for lovers of the original film – and also for those who love Shakespeare's plays, this new version of West Side Story works and is drawn to rave reviews, but I can't imagine a story like this working on a new audience, let alone these days. The idea of ​​love, partnership, and relationships has changed a lot. And even stagnant in a period when this idea of ​​“overwhelming passion” worked, it seems to me – looking at it with today's eyes, a little too forced.

Oh and one more tip: if you can, watch it dubbed or in original audio without subtitles. The translations here are out of the question!

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