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‘West Side Story (2021)’: A remake worth the watch

| Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Emma Kirner | The Observer

Remakes are a fascinating subject largely because of the outwardly expressed controversy associated with them. A remake is an easy step toward being labelled as profit-seeking and quote-unquote not as good as the original. While this may be true in a decent amount of cases such as “Home Sweet Home Alone,” this, from my perspective, does not hold true for the remake of “West Side Story.” The original is beloved for a very clear reason with Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony. Their amazing performance in the original West Side Story is part of what made the movie such a beloved classic.

However, the new cast for the remake was exceptional. Ansel Elgort, remembered for his appearance in the film “The Fault in Our Stars,” showed himself to be a good choice for the iconic role. Rachel Zegler as Maria was a great breakout role and, although I loved Natalie Wood’s performance in the original, Zegler surely deserves credit. One of my personal favorite cast members was Rita Moreno, who played Valentina. She also played Anita in the original “West Side Story.” Having a cast member from the original movie invokes a feeling of nostalgia especially considering how well they incorporated Valentina within the movie.

Valentina serves as a motherly figure in Tony’s life and understands Tony because of her life. She is a Puerto Rican woman who married a white man. Valentina helps Tony learn a Spanish phrase to say to Maria. In addition to this she also scolds the Jets for their mistreatment of Anita when she comes into Doc’s. Valentina was just one aspect of “West Side Story” that director, Spielberg, aced.

Other aspects of the movie that make it a must-see is the exceptional soundtrack. I loved the performance of “Tonight,” a beautiful song that is still stuck in my head. Other highlights were the songs “Gee, Officer Krupke” and “I Feel Pretty.” The performance of “I Feel Pretty” was exceptional as Maria and her co-workers cleaned the department store. “Gee, Officer Krupke” was especially comedic as it occurred in Officer Krupke’s office with him walking in toward the end of the song. The song “Tonight” is a classic, and listening to it after hearing it for so many years was amazing. The music is amazing but, that is just one aspect of the movie that I loved.

The new scenes added depth to the characters as well as slight changes in the dialogue. A new scene that was one of my personal favorites was when Tony brought Maria to a place he saw while in prison. The exploration of who Tony used to be as opposed to the idea of who he wants to be added immense value to the movie. It probed the question of “Is it possible for people to change?” The movie explored intense issues and this is part of what makes “West Side Story” an important movie to watch. As the viewer we get to see the problems of the cycle of violence, the discrimination against Puerto Ricans and the reality of broken families. The intense exploration of such deep topics is what led to the legacy of this movie. In a world where movies too often portray the world as a fairytale, “West Side Story” is based in the harsh realities and the deep flaws of human beings. But it is the truth in “West Side Story” that makes me love the movie, as many others do. For this reason I will (again) be awarding five shamrocks.

 

Movie: “West Side Story”

Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler

Director: Steven Spielberg

If You Like: “Romeo and Juliet”

Rating: 5 out of 5 shamrocks

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