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.

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