NOC Review: ‘West Side Story’ is a Beautiful Retelling Worth Seeing

Directed by Steven Spielberg, with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, West Side Story revives the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City. Now, fans of the Broadway show and original film might be wondering not only why it was remade, but if it’s worth going to see or if it does the story justice. With the stellar performances and amazing musical numbers, West Side Story has all the elements that make the story a classic and is definitely worth a trip to the movies.

This reimagining of the beloved musical follows the love story between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and María (Rachel Zegler). It plays with the classic forbidden romance and star-crossed lovers trope that so many love, putting a spin on Romeo and Juliet with rival gangs (the Jets and Sharks), racism in the 1950s, as well as tragedy. The rest of the cast includes Ariana DeBose (Anita), David Alvarez (Bernardo), Mike Faist (Riff), Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino), Ana Isabelle (Rosalía), Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank), Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke), and Rita Moreno (Valentina).

Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY, directed by Steven Spielberg. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2021 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

As a Latina, one thing I truly enjoyed was seeing the array of Latinx actors on my screen portraying the Puerto Rican characters. Considering this film has the power to introduce the story to a whole new generation, this important update from the original movie is a beautiful thing.

There are also many scenes in the film where dialogue is spoken switching from English to Spanish with no subtitles. While this may upset some, I actually liked this aspect and thought it added to the overall feel of the film to avoid using Spanish purely for throwaway lines. It’s not hard to use the character’s body language and tone of the scene to figure out what’s going on. You don’t necessarily feel like you’re missing anything but rather that you’re actually watching Puerto Ricans, who are constantly being told to “speak English” while adjusting to America and New York.

Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

The cast all do a fantastic job bringing this story to life, but there are definitely some standouts, specifically Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, and Josh Andrés Rivera. Newcomer Zegler delivers a beautiful performance as María and really makes audiences fall in love with her. Her voice is absolutely stunning and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

DeBose will no doubt be a fan favorite. She embodies Anita in a whole new way, stealing every scene she is in and giving her all in every musical number. Her performance, particularly later in the film, will make audiences emotional. Alvarez does a fantastic job as Bernardo and manages to play off every other actor perfectly. He is magnetic in all of his scenes, making it impossible not to focus on what he’s saying or doing.

Mike Faist as Riff in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Faist takes on the role of Riff and plays it so well. He thrives with the material given to him despite the fact that you should absolutely despise his character. Josh Andrés Rivera portrays Chino’s journey in a way that you don’t realize how incredible it is until the final moments of the film. It sneaks up on you, somehow his character feeling like such an important puzzle piece that you weren’t focusing on.

Moreno not only shines as Valentina, but also serves as one of the film’s executive producers. Having her part of this remake was such a brilliant decision and really is the biggest treat for fans of the 1961 film. As expected, you’ll love her character and she does a great job with every scene given to her.

Rita Moreno as Valentina in 20th Century Studios’ WEST SIDE STORY. Photo by Niko Tavernise. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Every musical fan knows the songs, but that won’t stop you from wanting to replay the soundtrack over and over again when you leave the theater. Specifically, you won’t stop thinking about the “America” number. The whole thing is shot perfectly. “A Boy Like That / I Have a Love” was also very well done. Zegler and DeBose do a wonderful job capturing all of the devastation and emotion in the late Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics. It’s magical seeing them perform together. The film’s choreography is amazing all around, but I have to highlight how much I loved everything about “Cool.”

Overall, you’ll recognize the story from the classic Broadway show and film, but you’ll also notice updates. The representation is beautiful to see and will allow young Latinx viewers to find characters they relate to for one reason or another. This remake does the story justice and will make a whole new generation fall in love with the story of star-crossed lovers who just want to be together.

West Side Story will be released in theaters on December 10.