West Side Story review – Spielberg’s triumphantly hyperreal remake | West Side Story (2021)

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story 2.0 is an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival. Nobody however Spielberg might have introduced it off, making a film by which Leonard Bernstein’s rating and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics blaze out with fierce new readability. Spielberg retains María’s narcissistic I Really feel Fairly, transplanted from the bridal workshop to a elaborate division retailer the place she’s working as a cleaner. This was the quantity whose Cowardian skittishness Sondheim himself had second ideas about. However its confection is solely palatable.

Spielberg has labored with screenwriter Tony Kushner to alter the unique e book by Arthur Laurents, tilting the emphases and giving new stretches of unsubtitled Spanish dialogue and protecting a lot of the visible idiom of Jerome Robbins’s stylised choreography. This new West Side Story isn’t up to date traditionally but neither is it a shot-for-shot remake. However daringly, and possibly virtually defiantly, it reproduces the unique interval atmosphere with gorgeous digital fabrications of late-50s New York whose genuine element co-exists with an unashamed theatricality. On the large display the impact is hyperreal, as when you have by some means hallucinated your approach again 70 years on to each the musical stage for the Broadway opening night time and likewise town streets exterior. I couldn’t watch with out gasping these opening “prologue” sequences, by which the digital camera drifts over the slum-clearance wreckage of Manhattan’s postwar Higher West Side, as if in a sci-fi thriller, with unusually acquainted musical phrases echoing up from beneath floor.

The unique story was famously based mostly on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, however with one crucial distinction. The Jets and the Sharks, not like the Montagues and Capulets, will not be “each alike in dignity”: the Jets are white, with a structural benefit over their Puerto Rican enemies, and this manufacturing, with constant Latino casting for the Sharks, factors up the white cops’ tribal similarity to the Jets, in a type of co-belligerent neutrality. Corey Stoll performs Lieutenant Schrank and Brian D’Arcy James is the sweaty, resentful Officer Krupke.


The scene is the rubble of the Higher West Side in 1958 the place decaying tenements are being bulldozed for the flamboyant new Lincoln Middle. Ansel Elgort performs Tony, a younger white man and ex-Jets member who this film imagines to be simply out of jail for an act of violence which has scared him away from getting concerned in gang warfare. Now he’s staying at Doc’s drugstore: or moderately his landlady is the widow of the late Doc, Valentina, marvellously performed by Rita Moreno, who was Anita within the authentic 1961 model. This was an Anglo-Latino love match, the longer term that Tony and María ought to have had.

Ariana Debose and David Alvarez in West Side Story.
Ariana Debose and David Alvarez in West Side Story. {Photograph}: 20TH CENTURY FOX/Niko Tavernise/Allstar

Tony’s greatest buddy is Jets’ chief Riff, performed by Mike Faist, whose sharp face has the wizened, coarsened look of somebody a lot older, and Riff desperately needs to enlist Tony for a brand new deliberate rumble with the Puerto Rican Sharks who’re encroaching on their territory in rising numbers, and this new film lets us see that queasy subtext of Protestant distaste for Catholic growth-rate. The Sharks’ chief Bernardo (David Alvarez) has a fiery relationship along with his girlfriend Anita (an exuberant, sensible Ariana DeBose) and oppressively protecting of his sister Maria: a mild, wistful efficiency from newcomer Rachel Zegler. Tony and Maria meet and fall for one another at an area dance and their transgressive affair for a microsecond reveals everybody the potential for a contemporary, non-sectarian future – however ends in violence. And in reality, the tragedy of errors that concludes the drama is extra plausibly plotted than something Shakespeare wrote.

Elgort and Zegler are a extra actual pair than Richard Beymer and Natalie Wooden within the authentic: however they’ve the identical basic innocence and quaint pre-pop, pre-youth-culture 60s unworldliness. West Side Story is contrived, actually, a hothouse flower of musical theatre, and Spielberg fairly rightly doesn’t attempt hiding any of these stage origins. His mastery of approach is thrilling; I gave my coronary heart to this poignant American fairytale of doomed love.

West Side Story is launched on 10 December within the US and UK, and on 26 December in Australia.

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