Academy-award nominated for best picture, “West Side Story” (2021) film directed by Steven Spielberg has overcome being a box office flop, receiving many nominations including for best picture at the Oscars.
The extremely low gross was at $4.1 million dollars on the opening day. The weekend preceding didn’t generate a great turnout as well, which was concerning considering the opening weekend is typically the overall highest grossing opportunity for a franchise. They grossed about $36.6 million overall, although the production budget was over $100 million not including the cost of marketing.
Since then, the movie deservedly received many nominations and awards including seven Oscar nominations, critics choice nominations, BAFTA nominations as well as Golden Globes.
Ariana Debose who played Anita in the film won for best actress at the Oscars awards show, making history as the first Afro-Latina to be awarded at the Oscars. They have also released the film on Disney Plus and HBO Max for streaming.
The cinematography brings the bold, vibrant colors to the original “West Side Story” narrative set in New York in the 1950s to life. The costumes highlighted the stark differences between the two gangs: The Sharks and the Jets, allowing audiences to visualize and remember who exactly is a part of which group, heightening the separation.
They illustrate “The Sharks” in deep reds and purples and “The Jets” in cool tone colors, especially blue. It is mainly showcased as red vs. blue.
The music was as beautifully vocalized in the past, just with new singers. One big difference with the remake is that they drew more influence from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” in which the narrative has been greatly inspired by. The actors and writer let the characters from Shakespeare’s work influence the characters’ personalities more in-depth in this version.
Spielberg also added his own new element to the plot, providing a modern take. The feud between the two rival groups had always been about territory in their New York neighborhood, but this story added a new layer as they dealt with gentrification and the community building nicer developments in their part of the city. Their buildings are also being torn down which adds to the aggression felt from both groups.
This version’s enhancement of the narrative provides more insights both in the characters and the plot. It did not take away from the original story but simply rearranged the song order and changed some of the locations of the events. They wanted to give the film more of a realistic tone than its predecessor.
The language barrier between the rival gangs adds to their differences and creates a larger rift in their constant miscommunication. This also adds to the more realistic take of the new movie.
They did however create a new character Valentine, to be Doc’s wife and Tony’s mother figure. This was also a way for Rita Moreno who played Anita in the original picture, to have a cameo in the film. She provided a level-playing field for the Sharks and the Jets as she saw them all as children having senseless arguments. She played a mediator in the film at the end of the movie, showing that she truly was not on either side regardless of Tony’s involvement in the Sharks.
There is a similar plot where the Puerto Rican Sharks combat the Caucasian Jets for authority and ownership of what they believe to be their respective territory on the upper west side. Their petty fight turns violent until a cop shows up and shows mercy to neither group. The cop sheds light on the fact that someday soon the land will become housing developments for people with more money, making their fight seem senseless.
Shortly after we are introduced to one of the protagonists Tony, who is apprehensive of associating with the Sharks again after his dispute with the law where he was sent to jail for a while and had recently returned. He is supposed to be on probation but his friend Riff, played by Mike Faist, convinces him that he needs to get over his weirdness and be himself again, meaning come back to the Jets. The peer pressure sinks in and Tony attends the social mixer event where he sees Maria, played by Rachel Zegler even though he had been hanging low at the event.
When they both make eye contact, they instantly experience love at first sight. After the main characters from both the Sharks and the Jets gangs see them together, they freak out and separate them.
Bernardo, who is Maria’s brother and Riff become angered by this and agree to have a riff with the condition that Tony is there. Riff and Bernardo are representative of the feud between Tybalt and Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Riff agrees to bring Tony to the rumble regardless of Tony’s say in the matter.
Maria and Tony disregard the concern and anger of their family and friends blinded by their love and meet on the brick fire escape behind Maria’s room for a song and plan to meet again the following day.
We gain more insight into Bernardo and Anita’s relationship, although they are not married they live together. Anita is a mother figure in Maria’s life nonetheless, even though she can not be that much older than her.
Anita sings about believing in the American dream and the endless amount of opportunity that they have in the country, whereas Bernardo dreams about life in Puerto Rico. They argue about the pros and cons of both places in a fun dance through the streets of the upper west side of New York City.
Maria and Tony meet again, and Tony addresses the fact that he had been in prison for a year for nearly beating a man to death while being with the Jets. They pledge their love to one another, similarly to the previous film but in this one they say marriage vows without actually legally committing to one another. This showed more of a realistic, yet symbolic homage to the beloved story.
Tony and the police find out about the rumble and try to stop it from happening. Tony tries to take their gun away and is unsuccessful. Following suit with the prior narratives, Tony ends up going to the rumble and watches as Bernardo kills his friend Riff and as a result Tony kills Bernardo.
After the tragic senseless loss of life, Chino who had been previously set up to date Maria by Bernardo in the past as he was seen as a good guy by Bernardo for his sister who was not affiliated with gangs, sees that Tony had murdered Bernardo. He snitches on him to Maria who had been daydreaming and singing about Tony while trying on clothes and messing around the store she was cleaning after hours.
Later that night, Tony and Maria meet and she doesn’t let him turn himself into the police as it would mean losing him too. They plot to run away together and Anita catches them together. She is rightfully furious but knowingly cannot stop them.
Chino plots to kill Tony with the gun he finds at the scene of the rumble. Valentina, whom we had been introduced to as the shop owner sheds light on her interracial marriage with the late character Doc.
She also has addressed how she is on neither side of their senseless behavior and arguing. She is enlightened to speak on this after hearing about Bernardo’s death. She sees their feud as childish, especially since she had seen them all grow up over the years. This new character was a great way for Rita Morena to return the beloved story, while also giving the characters more depth and nuance to the film.
Maria sends Anita to warn Tony about Chino, now that she has accepted them running away regardless of her feelings in this. Anita endures dehumanizing racist slurs and sexual harassment from the Jets. They even attempt to gang rape her. Luckily this all happens in the front of Valentina’s shop and she sees this, stops them and shames them for their wildly disgusting behavior.
Angrily, Anita claims that Chino killed Maria. Tony believes this and idiotically went to the street calling and begging for Chino to kill him, and he heard and followed suit. Maria had gotten there just before and Tony died in her arms. The film ends with this sorrow as the police arrive to arrest Chino, and the gangs carry his body back towards the shop, “Doc’s” with Maria following.
This film is perfect for anyone interested in seeing a revised classic that is worthy of the tale. Spielberg, impressed audiences yet again with another great picture more memorable than its predecessor. This film illustrated more depth and characterization than any of its past productions.
For those who loved the classic film, it has not strayed away from the integrity of the narrative; however, it has revised the mistakes of the past by allowing actors and actresses who fit the ethic background of the roles to portray these characters wonderfully.
There were also a few minor changes to enhance the plot, including locations to make the story more realistic and believable for modern audiences. This includes the gentrification within their neighborhood aspect of the film as it is a part of life now just as much as it was then. This adds an extra layer of frustration and true fears that these groups felt at the time, without taking away from the original story in a false way.
Remember to keep a tissue box on hand and be ready to sing along to old favorites as Spielberg has adapted a classic with a more realistic and diverse cast fit for the narrative.
Madison Wanco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.