West Side Story [Grade: 85%]

Director: Steven Spielberg

Story By: Tony Kushner

Cast: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Rita Moreno, Mike Faist, Iris Menas, and Josh Andrés Rivera

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In all transparency, I was genuinely super excited for this film when I first heard it was going into production and being directed by Spielberg. Then my excitement was slightly overshadowed by curiosity around representation after the release of In The Heights… Did casting for Spielberg do better than casting for Jon M Chu? Not too much…

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Below are my grades for key components in #WestSideStory that I find to be key in any story/film/series—Theme, Plot, Pacing, and Character (pertaining to arc/development &/or delivery). FYI: My A=95, A- =90, B=85, B-=80…etc. My D- =60 and my F=50

Additionally, I have added an entertainment factor scale to help you determine whether or not the film is something you’d be interested in taking time out of your weekend, evening, or day to watch. The scale range consists of: Worth the Watch/$$$, Interesting Enough (if looking for something new to start, OR experience is intentionally relevant to the genre and executed well–nothing more), Wait for Streaming, Don’t Rush, & Don’t Watch.

I have also added a few non-spoiling thoughts, wonderings, and comments as I watched the film to help give some rationale for my grades and entertainment scale.

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Theme: A

Plot & Story: B

Pacing: B

Character: C

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Entertainment Factors

General Public: Interesting Enough

Film Enthusiasts: Worth the Watch/$$

Experience Seekers (via Visuals & Score): Worth the Watch/$$

Musical Fans: Worth the Watch/$$

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1. With a runtime of 2 hours and 36 minutes… … you definitely start to feel it towards the later half of Act 2, but it’s not one of those frustrated and bored feelings—because it is entertaining through and through. Just an apparent noticing during the experience. The weird thing is, though, I wouldn’t cut any part out. If anything, I would probably add a little more for character development which would probably have a positive impact on my ability to feel the runtime due to being more invested in the characters. 🤷🏾‍♂️

2. The standout for me was Ariana DeBose! I was captivated during her number in that white dress with the red trim! Like, MY GOODNESS! 😩👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾🙌🏾

3. I don’t know if it was just me, but that choreography with the Jets and that gun caused so much anxiety. I was worried the entire time—I guess Justin Peck understood the assignment. 😂👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👍🏾

4. The moment at the dance when Maria first sees Tony…and everyone else is still dancing…so well shot! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾👍🏾

5. One thematic focus I noticed with this film was around “love and hate’s impact on our morals, values, and beliefs”, and it was executed quite well. 👍🏾👍🏾

Act One showcases “love” within communities—the Puertoricans/Sharks vs the displaced whites/Jets—and how that love for one another guides/anchors their decisions and actions in moments of needing protection—whether cultural, physical, or environmental (turf). 

Act Two is the space where the separate community “love” crosses over causing disregard for whatever morals, values, and beliefs were had within those separate communities. There’s more conversations literally regarding “hate/being hated” in this crossing which is part of what brews this primary tension that seems to tiptoe on reasoning being this pretty thin line between love and hate as the anchor for the emotions and actions guiding this new need for protection.  

Act Three is where that love and hate seems to blend into an intense and dangerous passion in order to protect each group’s separate community/show one’s love/loyalty/commitment to their individual communities, while also trying bridge the gap and share the love and protection. 

6. Another strong Jets number moment was at the police department. 👍🏾

7. In terms of our characters owning and carrying the theme, Tony was possibly the most straightforward/clearest beacon. Though his development was a little rushed/forced, there was enough reasonability to follow and accept. 

Maria’s character didn’t quite carry the theme for me until Act Three. As mentioned with pacing, the film could’ve used more time towards developing the possibility of Maria and Tony even happening—but more specifically, Maria. Her character was truly rushed to the point of her resembling nothing more than a “love story prop” for me, but her decision in Act Three + her monologue in Act Three holds firm to the theme. 🤦🏾‍♂️

8. That very tall shark… he gave a little extra in that strut at one moment…👀😏

9. Chile, I was so damn happy when Anita came in with her number addressing Maria in Act Three. I honestly was so annoyed with Maria at that moment, and that’s when the toxicity hit me. 😩😂😂😂🤦🏾‍♂️

10. The construction phase of gentrification in a New York neighborhood heightens the tensions between two racial groups of juveniles already at war due to existence, acceptance, and cultural protection that seems to be threatened by the idea of interracial relationships.—this is West Side Story.

For the most part, this love story isn’t bad at all. Each act does a great job with following through on the themes, and using the music and choreography to translate the tensions between and amongst these groups in really fun and bodily-poetic ways (the true strength of the story).  

My issue has to do with the lack of character development with Maria, or others, to help give more traction to the interracial threat component of the story. Yeah we know they don’t like each other, but what/who is/was it that brought about the fear of possibly attraction? How is Maria, then, a perpetuation? Now… I have my own thought related to “passing…” but how could the story make this more clear with Maria (or others)? 🥴

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Overall #WestSideStory gives The Outsiders – meets Romeo + Juliet – meets In The Heights – meets School Daze

Now I have never seen the play, and I am not sure how much was added or pulled, but I did not know/expect this story to be such a toxic, juvenile love story. LOL  And maybe it’s just a juvenile love story since those romances are toxic in nature due to being so immature? Maybe? LOL 

The film still teeters on being a little “[…] washed”, though—especially the scene when Bernardo and Riff shake hands and there’s no real distinction between the two. 

BUT…outside of those thoughts, the first thing I said to myself while viewing was regarding the cinematography and direction. It was really beautiful, and there was this classic-like quality about the film. I definitely see this film getting some Oscar buzz for the production alone. 

Also, I just gotta shout her out again—Ariana DeBose. Just phenomenal! 

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