West Side Story Stuns Visually in an Outstanding Remake


Carley Sanders, Staff Writer

*Contains Heavy Spoilers*

West Side Story is a classic movie known worldwide for its deep and captivating plot. Many years after the release of the original in 1961, Steven Spielberg’s new version hit the theaters on December 10th, 2021. When I heard the news of a renewed West Side Story, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to see it in theaters. Once the movie was released, I immediately bought my tickets. 

I ended up seeing the movie two times in the theater, and am still hoping to see it again. I really enjoyed the stunning videography and the use of color. I have always loved the characters and I think they did a good job casting most of them. Unfortunately, there were allegations against Ansel Elgort, the leading role of Tony, from 2014 that resurfaced before the release. This review is based on his acting performance in the movie.

Rachel Zeglar is a 20-year-old actress new to the screen, who landed the leading role of Maria. She was cast when she was only 17 years old, her viral singing video of “Shallow” blowing up a month before the casting for West Side Story. I thought her performance of Maria was spot on and truly proves how evident her talents are. Only a few days ago, January 9th 2022, she was awarded her first Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical, or Comedy. West Side Story was also awarded two more Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, and Ariana DeBose’s award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture. 

Ariana DeBose’s performance of Anita was absolutely stunning. I loved the way she portrayed the role, showing the many characteristics that make up the character. I also thoroughly enjoyed her costuming for the movie, especially the yellow dress featured in “America.” 

Despite the mixed reviews on Ansel Elgort’s performance of Tony, I felt that he did a decent job. I think his voice sounded beautiful but he didn’t seem to fit the character as well as some of the other actors in the new movie. Unfortunately, I did feel that Zeglar’s performance outshined Elgort’s, pulling my attention away from him and onto her. Though, overall, I did enjoy his performance.

Though Elgort wasn’t perfect for the role of Tony, I did feel his on-screen best friend was fantastic. Mike Faist, the 30-year-old actor, captured my attention on the screen with his acting. He did an amazing job portraying Riff, the leader of the Jets. I truly enjoyed how he created this broken, hateful character but still made me truly love and sympathize with Riff. I was also excited to see him in a new movie after seeing him perform live in his originating role as Connor Murphy in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen.

The costuming in this new version of West Side Story brought in aspects of the original, while it gave a new stunning look to the movie. I loved the characters’ costumes, each piece bringing out their personalities very well. I noticed in theaters that color played a very important role in the costuming and the movie as well. The characters were split between the New York Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, each side having distinct color palettes. I saw that the Jets were primarily blue with hints of green while the Sharks featured reds, oranges, and yellows. I love the scene of the school dance when the room is split between red and blue, creating a visually stunning scene full of dancing. 

My favorite part of these color distinctions was when Maria’s color palette slowly progressed from red and pink in the beginning, to completely blue by the end. This portrayed how her life was changing from living with her brother in Puerto Rico to finding a new life in New York with Tony. It can also be linked to how her love for Tony grew as she went through the movie, showing how she overlooked the divide between the Jets and Sharks. 

West Side Story wouldn’t be West Side Story without intense dancing. I loved the movement and choreography throughout the movie. It was visually appealing and truly brought back the original movie. I specifically enjoyed the song “Cool,” due to the dance within the fight scene. Riff and Tony both were fighting over the possession of a gun but this involved dance moves as they were trying to grab it from each other. I also found the school dance scene stunning, allowing everyone in the movie to show off their talent. 

An aspect that I loved in the new version of the movie was the use of the Spanish language. The movie was bilingual, including many lines in Spanish for the Puerto Rican characters. I enjoyed how authentic the characters felt as they spoke their native language. I feel like this also showed the difference between the Jets and the Sharks, creating, even more, conflict and division between the two gangs. 

Though the new version had great new aspects, one change I didn’t particularly agree with was that some of the songs were switched around. The song “I Feel Pretty” was moved to after the rumble, most likely to add a happier scene in the mix of the other serious scenes. Though this might seem like a good idea, I feel like the musical was made to have a split between moods with a happier beginning and a sadder ending. I also didn’t understand the choice of moving the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” to before the rumble, not exactly making it clear why the Jets were brought into the police station since the fight had yet to happen. 

Another memorable part of the movie was the storyline. It followed the original very well, bringing out a lot of similarities. I love how the story progresses, showing the difference between the upbeat beginning and then a saddening end. Though there were a couple of deaths, including Riff, Bernardo, and Tony, the story still showed how love can overcome hatred and pain. Maria specifically represents the theme of the movie. Her love for Tony overcame her hatred for the one who killed him. 

Overall, West Side Story was outstanding. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can say that it has become my favorite movie. I would totally recommend this movie to anyone who enjoyed the classic or someone who loves musicals. It does a great job creating an emotional, deep, sweet movie for people to indulge in.