In Review

Film review: West Side Story 

Steven Spielberg’s ravishing remake of the classic 1961 musical

“Typical Spielberg,” said Kevin Maher in The Times. “Only he could manage to remake arguably the greatest musical of all without falling flat on his face.” This is no radical reinvention, however: he has deftly shuffled a few numbers, added a character and dropped in a “dash of political subtext”, while approaching the spirit of the 1961 film “with unashamed reverence”. Ansel Elgort plays lovestruck Tony with a “hint of earnestness” that will be familiar to fans of the original; newcomer Rachel Zegler matches Natalie Wood for charisma, while outclassing her vocally (Wood was famously dubbed by Marni Nixon); the dance routines are based on the original choreography, but “expanded and elaborated”; the standout songs are still “ineffably poignant”; and the frames “drip with vintage colour” as if freshly “unearthed from a Tinseltown vault”. “This is West Side Story as you have never seen it before, exactly as it was before and more like before than ever.”

“I gave my heart to this poignant American fairy-tale of doomed love,” said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Bernstein’s score and Sondheim’s lyrics “blaze out with fierce new clarity”, and the visuals are “staggering”, reviving 1950s New York with fearless theatricality. “On the big screen the effect is hyperreal, as if you have somehow hallucinated your way back 70 years.” Yes, it all looks and feels absolutely right, said Christina Newland in The i Paper, and yet something is lacking. Spielberg could have infused the story with new life. Instead, he has produced a film that has “all the strengths and flaws” of its predecessor, and feels instantly stale. Really, what was the point?

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