Reviewing Oscars 2022 Best Picture Nominees: ‘West Side Story’

Photo courtesy of IMDb

By Clay Thompson | Reporter

I realize the term movie remake gives the connotation of desperation for money and terrible films, but Steven Spielberg’s remake of the musical “West Side Story” does a fairly decent job of adapting from the original film, with enough small changes to help modernize the themes for today’s audience.

The cinematography, lighting and set design of the film were brilliantly done, first and foremost. The color palette of the film felt both gloomy and hopeful which are hard tones to set since they are complete opposites. However, seeing how these are major tones of the film itself, the production design fits seamlessly with the feel of the film.

The acting in the film was fairly good. Other than Ariana DeBose, who truly does a great job portraying the character of Anita, I felt a lot of the performances were a bit too tame for a musical. That could just be personal preference, but to me a musical is a tool to teach or impart messages and themes through over-the-top expression on stage and in song.

While all of the songs in the film were choreographically and audibly resplendent, the acting between musical numbers was never bad, just too subdued for the medium the film was set for.

As for the musical numbers specifically, hats off to the people in charge of blocking, choreographing and shooting each performance. Each song and dance was a pure spectacle and I could not tear my eyes away from the screen. Ever since “La La Land,” I had never seen such great musical performances on the big screen, but “West Side Story” manages to capture what makes musicals special with excellent movie magic.

There were a few things that were different from the original film that actually helped in this Spielberg remake. The reason behind the conflict between the Jets and the Sharks is explored more deeply, while Maria and Tony’s relationship is slightly more grounded and some of the placement of the songs help set a better tone for the film overall. I don’t want to get into too much detail about the changes, but I think it’s safe to say most of them were welcome in this remake.

Despite a bit of what I’d consider lackluster acting for a musical, Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story” ultimately does a good job of staying loyal to the best parts of the original, while adding in some welcome changes that healthily set it apart from its predecessor.