West Side Story is a masterpiece, and there’s not much more to say about it.
The acting. the directing, and the score all fits together seamlessly. Rachel Zegler delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, and Steven Spielberg directs this film like he’s directed many a musical before – which for the record, he hasn’t. The cinematography and writing also deserve credit for this spectacular display of work.
There are a great many things in West Side Story that are noteworthy, but there are also a few things that aren’t that great. To name some: Ansel Elgort and the editing. Let’s get into it all right down below in this spoiler-free review – which is saying something for a play that’s half a century old – of 20th Century Studios’ West Side Story.
West Side Story: The Good
Rachel Zegler is the main thing that needs to be talked about here. Her charm and intelligence make for an incredible performance of Maria in West Side Story. In scenes with Ansel Elgort’s Tony, she very much takes over the screen, and shows her full potential. Zegler has a long career ahead of her, and with this performance, she might just kick it off with an Academy Award in Best Actress (Leading). I was laughing, crying, and feeling all the emotions she was during the film, and at this film’s peak emotional moments, I felt them too. Zegler delivers such a convincing performance that it’s hard not to feel the emotions that the characters are feeling.
Ariana DeBose is an extremely talented actress, and her case is quite similar to Zegler’s. This is her first major role as well, she is quite talented, and her strengths are used to their full potential in this film. DeBose plays Anita as an energized soul, looking for a life partner, and she finds that person in Bernardo (David Alvarez). DeBose plays Anita in a different way than her predecessor, and for the better. Rita Moreno is also quite influential in her role as Valentina, Tony’s grandmother. A veteran actress, Moreno shows that you’re never too old to act, and her influence is just as powerful as ever. Both are candidates for Best Actress (Supporting), though I personally feel that Rebecca Ferguson will win that category this year, for Dune.
Out of everything off-screen, the directing deserves the most credit. Steven Spielberg has another masterpiece to add to his collection, along with Jaws, Ready Player One, and Indiana Jones, to name a few. His vision for this film amazed me, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t going into this film expecting it to be as great as it is. Spielberg has never directed a musical before, so for his first musical, on a musical this well-known, I had my doubts that he could pull it off. But boy, did he pull it off. It’s better than the 1961 version, surprisingly, and it looks like a film from a veteran filmmaker that has dealt with musicals before.
The writing by Tony Kushner is great as well, the description, the locations, the emphasis on emotion is amazing, and it elevates the film, past what it would have been if there hadn’t been that level of detail in the script. The score is oscar-worthy, and the songs “Maria” or “America” have a serious chance to win Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in March. The cinematography though, was on another level. Jacques Kaminski has worked with Spielberg on many of his projects, and his contributions are one of the reasons that Spielberg’s films have been so successful. The lighting and color-grading on the film are amazing, and I pray that Kaminski will come to an MCU project one day.
West Side Story: The Bad
Ansel Elgort and David Alvarez are really my only issues with this film. Their characters (Tony and Bernardo) have so much potential, that Elgort and Alvarez fail to capitalize on. Maybe on an individual scale, Elgort is okay, but on the scale of the entire film, Elgort cannot compare to Rachel Zegler in their shared scenes, and neither can Alvarez with Ariana DeBose. They simply cannot capitalize on their characters’ potential, and try too hard for it to be good. When you try too hard, you are doomed to fail, which Ansel Elgort and David Alvarez did.
Editing is the only other issue with this film, and it’s not like it’s a major one. The only issue with it, really, is that there were moments interwoven throughout the film where it would simply cut to another scene. Basically, the music would be playing, the scene would be going, like normal, but suddenly everything would cut to another scene abruptly, with no context or explanation provided. It might be an issue with my theater, not sure, but there was definitely enough of the issue to make it a problem with my viewing experience.
West Side Story is just the kind of film that people need right now, and it is a must-see. The film has a chance at multiple Academy Awards in March, and Rachel Zegler is the most likely one to win. Newer figures to the industry like Zegler and Ariana DeBose are about to start their careers off with a bang, and veterans like Steven Spielberg and Rita Moreno show that there is no limit to what you can do with your talents. West Side Story is playing exclusively in a theater near you.