Review: ‘West Side Story’ dances and sings its way to the cinema


Photo credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc promotional photo

The poster depicts the rivalry between “The Jets” and “The Sharks.” West Side Story was released Dec. 10, 2021.

By Jullie Cach, Staff Reporter

After 60 years, the 1961 film, “West Side Story” has returned to the big screen. With larger sets containing more dancers than ever, new and vibrant costumes adding liveliness to the performances and spectacular dances making everyone get out of their seats, the 2021 remake is even better than the original. The film was theatrically released Dec. 10 and has since generated over 64.5 million ticket sales. It has already been nominated for seven Oscars.

The musical is set during 1950s in New York City and focuses on the rivalry between the higher-class community, known as The Jets, and the Puerto Ricans, known as The Sharks, as they fight for ownership of the town. The film touches on topics such as social class, inequality and race, and specifically highlights the struggles and discrimination Puerto Rican immigrants face. Adding to the rivalry between the two groups, the main characters, Maria Nuñez (Rachel Zeglar) and Tony Wyzek (Ansel Elgort), fall into a similar love conflict as seen in “Romeo and Juliet.” The two characters are from different families, cultures and backgrounds yet, like every typical love story, they fall in a forbidden love.

When I initially heard about the remake of the original 1961 film, I was thrilled because I remember when I first watched the original, I could not stop singing and dancing along with all of the actors and actresses. Though, to be honest, I was much more excited to hear the new soundtrack and to see all of the vibrant stage sets filled with incredible dancers.

Three-time Oscar winning and world renowned director Steven Spielberg is the best of the best when it comes to directors, and in this remake, he has produced and directed yet another phenomenal film.

If you’ve seen the original film, you can tell the actors were not all of Hispanic or Latino descent and that their skin was darkened with makeup, furthering the stereotypes embedded in the film and society during the 1950s. Hispanics were categorized as being dark-skinned, dirty and criminal. During an NBC interviewRita Moreno said she recalled issues with makeup.

“The colors was wrong on my face, and I remember we all had one color. It was very muddy. I remember there was one shot to this day where George Chakiris does a close-up and it looks like he was literally taken by the ankles and dipped in a bucket of mud,” Moreno said. “It was so thick and dark, I said, ‘I don’t understand this, I’m Puerto Rican, why can’t I be this color?'”

Interestingly, the 1961 film highlighted issues surrounding race and social class but contradicted the awareness it should have raised about those issues, by making the actors darker than they really were. In contrast, the reimagined 2021 film respected the actors’ ethnicity and cast their roles accordingly.

In the film, each actor found their own interpretation of their character by adding their own flares and charisma to the story. Zeglar and Elgort showed fantastic chemistry on screen and were able to interpret their own version of Tony and Maria’s love story with the emotion they put into both their acting and singing. Zeglar is a fantastic singer, and I felt as if I was being sung to sleep by her angelic voice. The contrast with Elgort’s fuller and darker-sounding voice was a great pairing with Zeglar, as heard in their song, “One Hand, One Heart.”

The much anticipated dancing in the musical surpassed my expectations. Compared to the original film’s choreography, the remake illustrated more complex movements and larger flash mob dances, which included a wider variety of cast members than the original film. One of my personal favorite dance numbers was “America.”  This song stuck out to me because of the impactful lyrics highlighting the constant struggles of being an American immigrant.

The constant strength and determination that each character shows throughout the film is incredibly powerful. Especially as a woman, it is inspirational to see fellow women come together and embrace their struggles, as well as find ways to uplift the community around them.

The reimagined film “West Side Story” was a spectacular movie with the best cast I’ve ever seen, an amazing soundtrack and choreography that brought it to life. The film has already been nominated in seven different Oscar categories, and if this many nominations doesn’t motivate you to watch, then I hope this review will.

West Side Story
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact
  • Music

West Side Story

“West Side Story” surrounds Maria Nuñez, a Puerto Rican and Tony Wyzek, a white boy who come from two different worlds and cultures, falling in a forbidden love. The rivalry between the Puerto Rican group, “The Sharks” and the white group, “The Jets” lead to an escalation of events coming in between the love Maria and Tony have for one another.