I went to watch the rebooted West Side Story with my mother before the full extent of the Omicron outbreak was known, thankfully at a very early and relatively empty screening of the film. I had been worried that it would ruin my mother’s fond memories of watching the 1961 original where she has often reminisced about friends in that era saying it was so good that they went to see it many times at the cinema. However, she insisted she still wanted to give this Steven Spielberg version a go.
This 2021 reboot sticks to the original plot of the love story between Tony and Maria based in 1950’s America, highlighting all the racial tensions played out via rival gangs the Jets and Sharks. It balances the aspirations of the ‘American dream’ versus the harsh reality of fitting in as seen in the well-known song ‘America’. All the other songs from the original are also included and are actually sung by the main actors in the updated film unlike in the 1961 version which was largely dubbed over with ghost singers. Lavish dance scenes are as dramatic and as well choreographed as in the original even if they have been reinvented in places.
I was pleased to see that this updated version had actual Latinos playing the Puerto Rican roles unlike in the Natalie Wood film where Rita Moreno (who played Anita) was the only actor actually from Puerto Rico. Moreno also starred in this reboot as Valentina, a revamp of the Doc character from the original. Maria is now played by Rachel Zegler who is of Columbian and Polish descent. She has described how she has had people tell her to go back to where she comes from in the US, even though she was born in New Jersey! This sadly shows how some of the issues looked at in the film are still not resolved today.
I was genuinely surprised and impressed that the film contained a significant amount of Spanish dialogue without subtitles. Just enough English was left in, however, to make it perfectly clear what was happening. However, for those of you wanting to practise your understanding of Spanish, this is definitely the perfect film to do this to!
By the end of the film the few people in the cinema were all crying at the ending and my mother remarked she had forgotten that “it had such a sad ending”. Our conclusion? This new version certainly packs a punch and is highly recommended viewing but probably safer to wait till it is out on DVD to watch at the moment!