Spielberg improves “West Side Story”

On Dec. 10, Steven Spielberg released his version of the movie “West Side Story,” greatly improving upon both the enjoyment of the movie and the plot, honoring its writer Stephen Sondheim who just passed away.

“West Side Story” details the lives of two rival gangs in 1950’s New York City, the Caucasian Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. The Sharks face harsh racism from both the Jets and the police. The leader of the Sharks has a younger sister, Maria, who he allows to come to a dance both gangs are attending with his girlfriend Anita. At the dance, Maria falls in love with a former Jet, Tony, but because of their rival gang associations, her brother challenges the Jets to a fight for trying to date his sister. Their love and the fight that ensues ends in tragic deaths on both sides, and the movie ends in tragedy for all due to the rivalry. The movie serves to detail the dangers of warring factions, and the harsh discrimination people of color face in the United States.

Spielberg vastly improved upon the original 1961 version of the musical, starting by casting actual Latin actors to play the Sharks. The original version painted white actors brown in order to play the Latin parts, which was greatly offensive. Spielberg also cut down a lot of the long dance scenes that made the movie hard to watch, making the plot flow more nicely and the movie more enjoyable to watch. He also used his directorial expertise to make the cinematography amazing to watch, making the audience feel transported into the 50s and the angles amplifying the emotions each character was feeling. I cannot describe how beautiful the movie was, the lights, shadows, and angles perfectly capturing the struggles of the gangs.

The casting was perfect for this movie, but Spielberg really found gold in Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita, and Rachel Zegler, who plays Maria. These women had beautiful voices that took my breath away everytime they started to sing, and whose acting made me feel their pain. DeBose encapsulated the willful, sassy, and kind Anita so beautifully, her dancing and treatment of her loved ones perfectly encapsulating Latin culture in America, trying to both preserve their roots while assimilating to a new country that discriminated against her. Zegler perfectly portrayed the innocent and kind Maria that only knew to love and not hate, doomed to tragedy.

However, like the original version of the movie, I found myself rolling my eyes to another “Romeo and Juliet” story. We all know how this movie ends, and we all cringe as we see another unrealistic telling of love at first sight. The lovers were ready to marry each other on their first date, and although I realize musicals are inherently unrealistic, this just pushes it over the edge. They also exaggerate the powers of love, as no one can love a killer because of true love’s blindness, that is simply not true. Also, although I know the movie’s casting and filming ended before Ansel Elgort’s sexual assault allegations came out, it still made it hard to enjoy his role in the movie, as his allegations were all I could think about when he appeared.

All in all, Spielberg’s “West Side Story” was a beautiful retelling of the classic musical that moves audiences. This movie is a must watch, the casting, cinematography, and plot all coming together to make an accurate portrayal of the struggles of love and racism.