Film Review: West Side Story is a heartfelt exploration of Americana
With a career spanning over fifty years, Steven Spielberg is behind some of the most beloved and lucrative American films in contemporary Hollywood.
Alongside Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Brian de Palma and Martin Scorsese, he was dubbed one of the ‘movie brats’. Unlike their predecessors of the ‘Golden Age’, these filmmakers grew up on TV and studied at film school to hone their craft. From E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jurassic Park, Spielberg’s often family-friendly films are era-defining successes. Of course, his summer smash-hit Jaws (1975) would be a watermark film in Hollywood, the first blockbuster. And so, it might seem an unusual side-step that Spielberg’s latest project is a sweeping, romantic adaptation of classic musical West Side Story, which opens at the Showroom this Friday.
But, from as early as 2004, Spielberg has said he wanted to make a traditional Hollywood musical – and that’s exactly what he’s made. Carefully making the film his own while staying true to what generations have loved about the original, Spielberg’s take on West Side Story is an irresistible, swooning love story with a particular significance for today’s audiences. Set amid gang warfare, poverty, and oppression in 1957, the film is full of social commentary which speaks to our modern times. The characters’ struggles are played out by a brilliant ensemble cast, led by romantic leads Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler (in her feature film debut) as Tony and Maria. Their star-crossed relationship is played out in electric musical sequences and delicately choreographed moments. Fans of Robert Wise’s 1961 film will also spot Rita Moreno among the cast; her role in the original West Side Story earned her an Oscar in 1962.
Spielberg’s West Side Story is a heartfelt exploration of Americana. A showcase of gorgeous, sweeping set-pieces and technicolour imagery, it still retains its emotional core and lived-in sense of central communities. The 1961 version saw the film become the highest-grossing film of that year, and it took home 10 Academy Awards. Critics are already predicting similar success for Spielberg’s version, which has been hailed as the director’s masterpiece.