When I originally heard that West Side Story was being remade, I wondered how it would do in today’s climate. West Side Story is a classic musical, made popular by the 1961 movie adaptation. The original play can be credited back to the 1950s and it’s been on the big stage, small stage, and even in school productions (I was a background dancer in my high school adaptation). However, it deals with some hot button topics, some outdated dialogue, and currently, it had some controversy over casting.

Not a Lazy Cash-Grab Remake

As a comic book movie nerd, I don’t mind when directors like Steven Spielberg and others dislike the MCU or DC or streaming services. That’s their prerogative – even if the narrative seems to favor the things they dislike being the main face of movies for the future. I’m no snob when it comes to film, but someone like Spielberg seems like the perfect person to understand West Side Story. As a director who has been in the industry for decades, he came up during a time of appreciation of film like the 1961 West Side Story and knew how to bring it to life for a modern-day audience.

Ariana DeBose as Anita in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

As a fan of West Side Story, I walked into this film as a skeptic. I walked out thoroughly enjoying it. I have my gripes with it, which I’ll talk about in a second. However, I want to focus on the good. There were a lot of great things about the film. First of all, the musical numbers. While I enjoyed Jon Favreau’s adaptation of Lion King, I can say many musical numbers in that movie were not pulled off with the same energy and gusto as the animated film. This is the opposite for 2021’s West Side Story. The songs hit just as well as the 1961 version – with songs like “America”, “The Dance at the Gym”, and more delivering everything you wanted and more.

The costumes and dance choreography were also on point. I was completely entertained and fascinated by how utterly [visually] beautiful this film was – even in the moments you could clearly tell they were doing everything in front of a green screen.

Ariana DeBose and Mike Faist, Please Stand Up

I have to give high praise to two characters/actors in particular. And no, it’s not the leads. First is Ariana DeBose as Anita. Rita Morena portrayed the strong character in the 1961 film and pretty much became what you envisioned Anita to be. And while Rita was great, DeBose really stole the show as Anita. Her confidence, her comfortability in the character, and her dancing and singing really made her a great Anita. I absolutely loved her interactions with David Alvarez as Bernardo and how she carried herself throughout the film.

The other person I have to give praise to is Mike Faist as Riff. Yes, I know that the character Riff (the leader of the Jets) isn’t supposed to be a likable character, but I couldn’t help, but focus on Faist’s performance. He brought a naturalness to the character that really captivated me. Faist was able to make what was probably originally written as a one-dimensional character in the three-dimensional space. Faist was able to sing, dance, and serve the attitude and smugness that comes from playing Riff.

Mike Faist as Riff in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

My Complaints

Now, let’s get into the not-so-good. Specifically, why I wouldn’t say that the main characters Tony and Maria are almost forgettable. Now, West Side Story is supposed to be a modern day Romeo and Juliet. You have two groups of people who despise each other and yet one person from each group falls in love with the other, thus dividing everyone. Tony and Maria’s story was captivating in the original film. Their chemistry was palpable and their acting was on point.

Rachel Zegler as Maria and Ansel Elgort as Tony in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

That wasn’t the case here. Not so much in regards to Rachel Zegler as Maria. She was fine as Maria – though, I mean; I wouldn’t have been upset if someone else played Maria. I believe I’m indifferent to her performance. It’s Ansel Elgort as Tony that killed it for me. Now, I’m not on the Ansel hate train – I liked him in Baby Driver. But, honestly, Elgort’s awkwardness and stiffness made his scene almost unbearable for me. Not only was he awkward in his steps around Maria, but he made their scenes together look clunky and disorganized (I get he’s supposed to be starstruck, but…just, no). His facial expressions were non-existent and his voice (if he’s the one singing) did not have the power to carry some of the crucial musical scenes in the film.

Rating: 4/5

Other than that…my only complaint is, stop putting wigs on Corey Stoll. Anyway, West Side Story (2021) really is great. While we could all ask if a remake was necessary, we cannot say that Steven Spielberg did not give us a great, faithful adaptation of one of the greatest musicals of the modern-day. I highly suggest checking out this fun musical and just enjoying yourself in the movies.

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