Review: West Side Story (2021)


Giuliana D'Alessandro and

West Side Story (2021) Review

By Giuliana D’Alessandro


2h 36m

A remake of the 1961 hit musical West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg premiered in movie theaters on December 10th. The movie stars Rachel Zegler as María, Ansel Elgort as Tony, Ariana DeBose as Anita, Mike Faist as Riff and David Alveraz as Bernardo. The film deals with immigration, racial anxiety, abuse of police power and the casual dehumanization. The story is a musical adaptation of the play Romeo and Juliet. Set in 1957, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side two gangs, the Sharks (Puerto Rican teens) and the Jets (Irish, Polish and Italian teens), fatally fight for control over their turf, but the situation becomes complicated when a gang member, Tony, falls in love with a rival’s sister, María.

Spielberg’s West Side Story definitely deserves 5 stars. The movies casting was one of the main reasons for its high rating. Zegler and Elgort portray their characters perfectly. They had such amazing chemistry together and both blew me away with their singing voices. Mike Faist, who plays Riff, is not only a talented singer and dancer, but portrays Riff’s rough personality marvelously. The movies realism and representation was also another factor in its 5 star rating. One nod to realism in the movie was Spielberg’s decision to allow the Sharks to speak Spanish without subtitles. In the original 1961 film, many of the Hispanic characters were not portrayed by Hispanic actors, this includes the lead role of María. In Spielberg’s remake, he cast Rachel Zegler, a colombian-American actress, to play María, Ariana DeBose, an Afro-Latina, to play Anita and many another supporting characters were recruited from casting calls in Puerto Rico. 

Often movie remakes can not stand up to the original movie.  The 2021 West Side Story is an exception.  There were some subtle changes to the 2021 movie, such as a new character Valentina played by Rita Moreno.  Moreno played Anita in the 1961 version of West Story.  In Spielberg’s West Side story, Moreno plays the wife of Doc the drug store owner.  This change did not change the integrity of the original storyline, it was a nice enhancement.

If you enjoy music and dancing, I highly recommend Spielberg’s West Side Story.  I loved the original 1961 version and did not think the revamped version would stand up to my expectations, well I was wrong it exceeded my expectations.