West Side Story (5/12/12)

West Side StoryMovie One Hundred Seventeen

West Side Story is a “modern day” take on Romeo and Juliet using New York City’s racial tension as the backdrop for two ill-fated lovers.

Recently re-released for its 50th anniversary, West Side Story has been hugely popular both on and off Broadway. The film takes a well-known story but throws in an urban setting and deals out the race card and then sets the whole thing to music.

Warring neighborhood gangs the Jets and the Sharks are frequently clashing in turf wars. The Sharks are a gang of Puerto Rican immigrants while the Jets are white. Eventually, one of the leading members of the Jets, Tony (Richard Beymer),  falls in love with the sister, Maria (Natalie Wood), of the leader of the Sharks. Alongside the gang fights, the two groups also have to deal with local law enforcement. As Maria and Tony’s love blossoms, tensions rise between the gangs and the city.

In general, I’m not a fan of musicals. Even the best of musicals cause me to check my watch often. It’s not that I dislike music, I love music, there’s just something about musicals that drains me. West Side Story is no different, and clocking in around 2 1/2 hours, it was a bear to get through. I had actually never seen it before, but I did know some of the songs from the soundtrack. My wife recently purchased the Blu-Ray and when I told her I had never seen it she practically strapped me to the sofa and peeled off my eyelids to watch it (not really).

While the songs and the message have both stood the test of time, some of the racial elements are quite jarring. Even though racism is a key component of the film’s plot, to hear the Sharks being called “spics” made me cringe. Some of the more eccentric parts of the musical numbers also made me roll my eyes, but I suppose the film is supposed to be mostly camp. Overall, West Side Story is likely essential viewing for all fans of musicals. While I was not taken with it on a whole, I can see the significance and merits of West Side Story.

I give it 3 Saturday Night Live spoofs out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


11 responses to “West Side Story (5/12/12)

  1. I am a big Robert Wise fan and I enjoy many musicals. In fact, Wise’s “The Sound of Music” is one of my favorite movies. That said, I can’t stand “West Side Story.” I’ve tried to watch it several times and have yet to be able to sit through it, no matter where in the movie I happen to come upon. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but there’s something about the photography, the songs, the dancing (I’m sorry, but the gangs seem rather un-maculine in their choreography), and the characters that are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

    • That actually makes me feel better for not liking this one as much as I thought I should.
      And yes, the choreography is the most flamboyant “fighting” I’ve ever seen. I was laughing quite hard at some points.

  2. Oh, dear. A 3 out of 5? I was a bit shocked by your assessment of this film. It’s certainly a classic, but somehow I’d forgotten about it. I’d like to thank you for reminding me of it before I must kindly inform you that I strongly disagree with you on this one. I must have gotten by all the racism of this (I was around 9-11 years old when I saw it–fun fact, I guess: I saw it with my grandmother, and it was the first time I’d seen her cry in my life–but bottom line, I was far too young and innocent to have knowledge of any racial slurs). I absolutely loved this, and I’m not a fan of musicals, either. A fan of musicals is rarely a film fan, also. He or she probably adores the stage, and that’s it. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s probable that no film fan has a passion for musicals. The acting, the music, everything about this blew my mind. Still, great review.

    • I think part of my rating went into not being in the mood for the film at all.
      I should outline this somewhere, but in my mind, a 3/5 means that I enjoyed watching it but have no immediate desire to see it again.

  3. I like Robert Wise as a director, but have always thought this movie to be heavily overrated. I felt that the length was too long and it is too slow. Good review.

  4. agreed. cut about two songs out of it, and you got a deal. it’s too long. if you ever see the stage show, you won’t just check your watch, you’ll check a calendar too.

  5. I’m a big fan of musicals but I totally agree with this: “Some of the more eccentric parts of the musical numbers also made me roll my eyes, but I suppose the film is supposed to be mostly camp.”

    For me, the best part of WSS is the choreography.

  6. West Side Story is a hard, hard film for me to resist. Not only do I not ever get tired of seeing this great, golden oldie but keeper of a classic film over and over again, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen West Side Story. That’s okay, however, since it’s a great feast for the mind, heart, eyes and emotions.

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