Is It Better?
The answer is a resounding… Eh! Sorta, but not really. Music and orchestration — brilliant, but the same. The acting wasn’t exactly great in the original West Side Story and it’s not exactly great now (we’ll talk about Rita Moreno later). Overall the acting is fantastic but not necessarily award-winning. It’s hard not to fall in love with Zegler, which only makes the ending that much more powerful. Elgort is probably the weakest of the cast. He can sing fine, but he’s got this goofy walk that made me giggle every time.
The storytelling is just as good and accentuated with the inclusion of the Peurto Rican struggle at that time. We understand just how hard it was to be a minority and a foreigner living in NYC.
The staging of the songs is top-notch and exceeds the original. “Something’s Coming” is set in Doc’s Drug Store, now run by his widow, Valentina (Rita Moreno). Tony sings it to Valentina, and it’s hard not to gush at the way the two play off each other and wonderfully sets the tone of their relationships. “Gee, Officer Krupke” takes place at the police station and is the comedic highlight of West Side Story.
“Let’s face it. The film is still about gang members dance-fighting.”
Let’s face it. The film is still about gang members dance-fighting. Spielberg does a fantastic job grounding each song in some sort of surreal reality. There’s no getting around the “suddenly they sing” syndrome, but it’s handled in a way that may be palatable to non-musical fans.
Let me say that Moreno could damn well win another Academy Award for West Side Story. She’s not a throwaway character in the slightest and, in a way, is the matriarch of the Sharks and Jets. She also gets her song, “Somewhere,” and nails it (though I prefer the original sung by Tony and Maria).
Look, I’ll admit, I’m reviewing this from the perspective of someone who loved the original (Check out our Film Threat review video as Zorianna Kitt had never seen it). All Speilberg really did was take a masterpiece, keep it a masterpiece, and add a little flair (and backstory). He took gold and made prettier gold. Not a criticism, but man, if he had screwed this one up, he’d have to turn in his director card. In the end, I’m giving this version of West Side Story a 9.5/10, which is the exact score I gave the original. All this to say, I can see myself jumping back and forth between versions depending on my mood.
"…is not that far off from the original."