“Life can be bright in America,
If you can fight in America
Life is all right in America,
If you’re all-white in America”
WEST SIDE STORY (2021):
The grandmaster of multiple genres Steven Spielberg returns with his 33rd movie – the adaptation of renowned 1951 musical and the remake of the classic 1961 movie of the same name: West Side Story, which itself is inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet.
After a break of 2 years, Spielberg, in his 70s now, is churning out movies with a high frequency: 2015 to 2018 saw one movie each year – Bridge Of Spies, The BFG, The Post, Ready Player One. And it won’t be considered a break – he filmed West Side Story during the summers of 2019 in New York streets with a release date of December 2020 – but covid happened and a year worth of delay followed. Also, next year, in November another movie which has recently finished filming – The Fabelmans will make its way to theatres. It is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama. A lot of Spielberg material is underway. That’s enough, let’s come to the movie.
To portray young Sharks and Jets, the rival street gangs, nearly unknown actors have been introduced – Rachel Zegler (Maria) & Ariana DeBose (Anita). Known ones – Corey Stoll as Lt. Shrank, Ansel Elgort stars as Tony and Rita Moreno as Valentina. Screenplay is taken care of by Tony Kushner, who collaborated earlier for Munich (2005) & Lincoln (2012) and cinematography is covered by long-time collaborator Janusz Kaminski (since 1993).
West Side Story begins with the famous long-take Spielberg shot covering the area where Jets and Sharks live – the reminder that the partially-destroyed area will be mowed down (picturized by a monstrous wrecking ball) and will be replaced by rich-class society and the remaining “poor folks” will be left to the mercy of the NGOs or administration. Nevertheless, it revolves around the 2 main points – is this about race or area/territory? Both Jets (white background) and Sharks (Puerto Rican) want to rule.
Ariana DeBose as Anita plays the most terrific and energetic role followed by Rachel Zegler. Ansel was mostly shown as quiet, wise but at times he lost control as well. “Please talk in English”, “English please” are a reminder of how intolerant we humans are becoming by losing our social cool. Apart from racial tensions and territorial divide, the movie also, through smart commentary covers patriarchy, migrants issues. The musical numbers – Tonight, Maria, America, Somewhere are delightful to watch and listen to. Even after 60 years the rhyme “Life is all right in America, if you’re all white in America” peers through viewers’ souls. The runtime is never felt – 2 hrs. 35 mins, all thanks to engaging characters in every frame.
After covering scifi, adventure, war, biography, fantasy, historical drama and many other dramas, Steven Spielberg has yet again mastered a new genre – this time a musical drama. What else he has left to conquer? A pure horror perhaps? Or psychological? Only time will tell. But West Side Story would definitely be one of Spielberg’s finest, though not in my Top 5 atleast. Top 10? I might have to rework the ranking to check if it can fit in. However, it still is a great film and Spielberg continues to awe audiences worldwide with his varying genres. For now we wait for the Oscars run with this movie.