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Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY is a fine piece of cinema and embellished with noteworthy performances and music score.
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Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY is a fine piece of cinema and embellished with noteworthy performances and music score.


West Side Story (English) Review {3.0/5} & Review Rating

WEST SIDE STORY is a love story of two youngsters from different ethnic backgrounds. The film is set in the 1950s in New York City. The Upper West Side of the city is going on for redevelopment and lower class people residing in the locality have been asked to leave. Two rival street gangs control this area – the Jets, which consists of the Whites and is led by Riff (Mike Faist) while the Sharks, which consists of Puerto Ricans and is led by Bernardo (David Alvarez). One of the founding members of the Jets, Tony (Ansel Elgort), has just been released from prison. He was arrested after he nearly killed a rival gang member belonging to a different ethnic community. He has now reformed and works at a drugstore, and prefers to stay away from violence. At an upcoming dance event, members of both the gangs and their siblings make their presence felt. The organizers intend to use this opportunity to form a bond between the two groups. But the effort proves futile as the Whites and the Puerto Ricans prefer to dance among themselves. Tony attends the event and is mesmerized by Maria (Rachel Zegler), sister of Bernardo. She has come with her date, Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera), but is not interested in him. She spots Tony and both dance, away from everyone’s eye and, even kiss. However, they get caught, leading to an altercation between the two gangs. Both decide to fight it out the next night. What happens next forms the rest of the film.

WEST SIDE STORY is based on the stage musical of the same name written by Arthur Laurents. The story is inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo And Juliet. The Indian viewers will also be reminded of Shah Rukh Khan-Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starrer JOSH [2000] as it has the street gang connection (the film was also inspired by WEST SIDE STORY). Tony Kushner’s screenplay is neat and entertaining. The characters are very well fleshed out and most importantly, he also nicely informs viewers about the problems faced by people of various ethnic communities and lower classes. The dialogues are sharp but the romantic ones are sure to tug at heartstrings. A lot of racial slurs are also heard in the film but that’s as per the script’s requirement.

Steven Spielberg’s direction is, as expected, supreme and old-fashioned. He handles the film in such a way that one feels like watching an old classic. The colour tone also compliments this aspect. At the same time, he also uses the modern sensibilities of filmmaking and this fusion created on celluloid makes for a delightful watch. Despite the presence of so many songs, for most parts of the film, one is completely immersed. The love story and the track of Anita (Ariana DeBose) and Bernardo are the best portions. On the flipside, at 2 hours 36 minutes, it is quite a lengthy film. It would not have been a problem if it was engaging from start to finish. There are too many tracks and towards the later part of the film, a few songs seem unnecessary or should we say, wrongly placed. Hence, Indian viewers, who are not used to watching western musicals, might get restless in the second half. Agreed that they wholeheartedly accepted LA LA LAND [2016] but that was a shorter film at 128 minutes and had fewer songs. Another major problem with the film is that nearly 10-15% of the dialogues are in Spanish. And as per Steven Spielberg’s directive, those dialogues have not been subtitled. This creates a language barrier and in India, it becomes a bit weird since there are English subtitles available for English dialogues but not for Spanish dialogues! A few Spanish lines are self-explanatory but some are uttered in crucial sequences. Since audiences won’t be able to figure out what’s being said in these scenes, it’ll hamper the impact.

WEST SIDE STORY starts with a breath-taking shot that educates viewers about the setting and the era in which the film is based. The street gang fight in the beginning with the dash of dance sets the mood. The entry scenes of Tony and Maria are lovely. But the film takes off when they both meet and also when they meet at Maria’s fire escape. The various songs add to the fun. The scene where the fight takes place in the salt shed is a shocker. One expects the film to end soon but here it starts to drag. The song ‘I Feel Pretty’ seems unnecessary here and should have been placed somewhere else, or maybe shouldn’t have been there in the movie at all. ‘A Boy Like That’ also slows down the narrative and it looks appropriate for a stage version of the story. In the film, it’s the only song, which seems unconvincing. The climax is moving.

Ansel Elgort is excellent as the loverboy. He had earlier played an all-out romantic role in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS [2014] and it remains to be one of his most memorable performances. His performance in the film comes very close though here, he puts up a restrained act. Rachel Zegler looks stunning and it is difficult to say that it is her debut performance. She had a challenging role but she plays it effortlessly. Ariana DeBose is terrific and is a sure shot Oscar worthy performance. She dances like a dream. David Alvarez and Mike Faist are fine in the roles of aggressive gang founders. Josh Andrés Rivera has a crucial part and does well. Rita Moreno (Valentina) is lovely. Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke), Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank) and Iris Menas (Anybodys) are decent.

Leonard Bernstein’s music is one of the USPs of the film. The same songs, which were there in the musical, are played in the film and are arranged perfectly by David Newman. The most memorable songs of the lot are ‘Maria’, ‘America’, ‘Something’s Coming’, ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ and ‘Tonight’. ‘Tonight’, especially, is terrific and the idea that everyone is waiting for the night for their own reasons makes for a fine watch. ‘America’ is also well thought of and very well-choreographed.

Janusz Kamiński’s cinematography is remarkable and has an old-world feel. Adam Stockhausen’s production design is detailed and brings the past era alive. Paul Tazewell’s costumes are very appealing and authentic. Michael Kahn and Sarah Broshar’s editing is unhurried.

On the whole, WEST SIDE STORY is a fine piece of cinema and embellished with noteworthy performances and music score. The film has the potential to record decent footfalls in Indian cinemas due to Steven Spielberg’s association, the hype and the fact that it has chances to excel at the Oscars. However, the long length, too many songs and absence of English subtitles for Spanish dialogue will reduce the impact to some extent.



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