Review Roundup: Steven Spielberg's WEST SIDE STORY Film Remake

The film is set to hit theaters on December 10.

By: Dec. 02, 2021
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Review Roundup: Steven Spielberg's WEST SIDE STORY Film Remake

West Side Story has officially returned to the big screen! See what critics thought of Steven Spielberg's new adaption of the classic musical.

Directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Spielberg, from a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Tony Kushner, "West Side Story" tells the classic tale of fierce rivalries and young love in 1957 New York City.

This reimagining of the beloved musical stars Ansel Elgort (Tony); Rachel Zegler (María); Ariana DeBose (Anita); David Alvarez (Bernardo); Mike Faist (Riff); Josh Andrés Rivera (Chino); Ana Isabelle (Rosalía); Corey Stoll (Lieutenant Schrank); Brian d'Arcy James (Officer Krupke); and Rita Moreno (as Valentina, who owns the corner store in which Tony works). Moreno - one of only three artists to be honored with Academy®, Emmy®, GRAMMY®, Tony® and Peabody Awards - also serves as one of the film's executive producers.

The film is an adaptation of the 1957 musical with an iconic score by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and a book by Arthur Laurents. The film is being directed by the legendary Stephen Spielberg with Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner penning the film's screenplay.

The critics have spoken...

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "Spielberg stays reverently true to what generations have loved about "West Side Story": the swoon factor, the yearning beauty of those songs, the hypnotic jackknife ballet of '50s delinquents dancing out their aggression on the New York streets. There are scenes in Spielberg's version that will melt you, scenes that will make your pulse race, and scenes where you simply sit back and revel in the big-spirited grandeur of it all."

Pete Hammond, Deadline: "For Spielberg, finally a musical - one I initially was surprised to hear he felt the need to reimagine but one that comes alive as proof of its endurance and long-lasting worth. It's also further evidence, if it ever was needed, of the gifts of a filmmaker who recognizes the greatness of those who came before him and finds a way to honor them by making it all seem like so new and important once again."

Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post: "It's the ensemble that wows most, though. Faist makes an unusually spindly Riff, yet he is scarier than any I've seen. Bernardo, the best role in the show, is given real intensity by David Alvarez and Ariana DeBose dances the dickens out of "America" as Anita. And then there's Rita Moreno ... At 89, there is pathos and tenderness in every word, breath and note. In the song "Somewhere," she sings "there's a place for us." Be glad Spielberg found a place for her."

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: "This new West Side Story isn't updated historically yet neither is it a shot-for-shot remake. But daringly, and maybe almost defiantly, it reproduces the original period ambience with stunning digital fabrications of late-1950s New York whose authentic detail co-exists with an unashamed theatricality. On the big screen the effect is hyperreal, as if you have somehow hallucinated your way back 70 years on to both the musical stage for the Broadway opening night and also the city streets outside."

Brian Truitt, USA Today: "With outstanding performances from newcomer Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose, Spielberg's take doesn't stray too far from the original 1957 "Romeo & Juliet"-inspired Broadway musical or the 1961 best picture winning-film, but is rather a more authentic, dynamic and thoughtful revamp."

Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair: "Spielberg does lots of his typical canny and deceptively simple camera tricks, while ballet wunderkind turned in-demand choreographer Justin Peck has worked with Jerome Robbins's iconic original choreography to create dance scenes that thrash and glide with intention and power. It's a relief to see a movie musical that knows how to film dance sequences, when there are so many recent examples of just the opposite."

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: "That score, by the way, has seldom sounded better. From the jagged, percussive syncopation of the gang numbers to the transporting romance of the love songs and the agitato drive of the underscoring, the music has been given impeccable treatment by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of conductor Gustavo Dudamel. David Newman did the dynamic new arrangements, while Jeanine Tesori (who co-wrote Caroline, or Change with Kushner) supervised the exquisite vocals."

Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times: "Therein lies the spry paradox of this "West Side Story," which knows that in sensitive enough hands, close-to-the-bone realism and bright-hued formalism can be flip sides of the same stylistic coin. Spielberg's movie may be rougher, grittier, more lived-in and, in terms of cultural representation, more truthful than its 1961 cinematic incarnation. But it is also more unabashedly classical, more radiantly stylized, than just about anything a major American studio has released in years."

Robbie Collin, The Telegraph: "West Side Story is, I believe, Spielberg's finest film in 20 years, and a new milestone in the career of one of our greatest living directors. A little less than a month before his 75th birthday, he has delivered a relentlessly dazzling, swoonily beautiful reworking of the 1957 Manhattan-set musical by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, which feels just as definitive and indestructible as the previous screen adaptation, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins."

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: "No matter how poignant or pointedly reworked, West Side Story is still high Hollywood fantasy: Where else outside of a sound stage can turf wars be resolved with a warbled melody and a kick-ball-change? But it feels like a rare achievement to even attempt to scale the unscalable and still, after more than half a century, be able to make it sing."

Clarisse Loughrey, Independent U.K.: "Rachel Zegler, in the role of Maria, closely replicates Natalie Wood's own twinkling, saintly presence - quite the achievement for a debut performance. Anita has been given an expanded part in the narrative, fronted by Broadway's own Ariana DeBose, who in turn seems to fill the entire film up with her kaleidoscopic emotions. DeBose delivers everything with precision, whether a word, a kick or a high note."

Stephanie Zacharek, TIME Magazine: "[Spielberg's] West Side Story-with its glorious Leonard Bernstein woodwinds and bongos, its ruffly "I Feel Pretty" Stephen Sondheim wordplay-comes off not like a re-creation of an older work, but like a work summoned from the memory of a feeling. To the extent that semantics matter, it might be more accurate to call Spielberg's West Side Story-its screenplay by Tony Kushner, riffing on Arthur Laurents' original book-a new film interpretation of the 1957 play, rather than a remake of Robert Wise's 1961 film."

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: "The music and songs remain the same, but Kushner's screenplay is very different from the 1961 version. He grounds the film in real events: the late-1950s destruction of a low-income Manhattan neighborhood in order to pave the way for Lincoln Center (the opening scenes of the 1961 movie are shot among this wreckage, but it isn't a theme of the film), displacing numerous people. This "West Side Story" isn't just about the death of three young people, but the death of a neighborhood; the filming feels less like a soundstage and more like a real time and place."

Linda Marric, The Jewish Chronicle: "Elgort gives a robust performance as the soft spoken Tony while Zegler puts in truly impressive debut as Maria. It is however Mike Faist as Riff who impresses the most with a stunning and accomplished performance in a role he has well and truly made his own. Elsewhere, Hamilton star Ariana DeBose puts in a career best turn as Anita, a role for which Moreno won an Oscar."

David Ehrlich, IndieWire: "It's a wonderful musical, and an unabashed Steven Spielberg movie. And the moments in which it most comfortably allows itself to be both of those things at once leave you convinced that some harmonies are worth waiting for, even if it seems like they've been always been around the corner and whistling down the river."

Matt Windman, AMNY: "When the film is made available for streaming, I will likely end up fast-forwarding through all the dialogue. However, this is a film that deserves to be experienced in a movie theater, both for the visuals and the sound of the orchestrations. Perhaps "West Side Story" will turn out to be the film that finally revives the movie theater box office following the pandemic."

Siddhant Adlakha, IGN: "Most magical of all is the way the film captures Tony and Maria, a wildly imaginative conception of young love that makes all its other flaws simply melt away. Zegler, who plays Maria, brings both a radiance and a lifelike honesty to the movie's operatic romance. She navigates a delicate intersection between nervous discomfort around Tony, and a sense of comfort within that discomfort, like it's a part of herself she can share with him. Maria also has a discomfort speaking English, but the film features significantly more Spanish and Spanglish than the culture of '50s American musical theater might have allowed."

Mick LaSalle, Datebook: "Two women are almost sure to come away with supporting actress nominations. Ariana DeBose's Anita is a star-making performance - full of thought and passion and wonderful dancing and singing. And Rita Moreno's Valentina is nothing short of career defining."

Helen O'Hara, Empire: "Tony and Maria's characters usually feel like the weakest links, though, their Romeo and Juliet story flat amid all the bigger characters. At least Elgort and Zegler can sing, so their ballads make up for a lot, and Zegler gives Maria a little more backbone than previous incarnations. But it's when the camera is on Riff, Bernardo, Anita or Rita Moreno's Valentina that the film comes most alive."

Watch the trailer here: