West Side Story

A master burnishes a masterpiece

Steven Spielberg’s thoughtful remake of the 1961 mega-hit musical has a lot of things going for it. It’s energetic, colorful, well-acted, -danced and -sung. The young leads, Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler as Tony and Maria, are appealing, though they’re outshone in every scene by Ariana DeBose as Anita. And though it has been updated to fit modern sensibilities, it came as a relief to me that it doesn’t ignore its stage origins, and the timeframe remains 1957.

A major plus in this classic Romeo & Juliet story is the inclusion of Rita Moreno, one of the best-looking 90-year-olds on the planet. She took home an Oscar 60 years ago for her portrayal of Anita in the original film version. Steven has tweaked the third act a bit to accommodate her heartbreaking rendition of “Somewhere.” Brilliant.

Speilberg (who else would even try this?), working in the musical genre for the first time, expertly balances realism with stylization to create an exhilarating opportunity for you to return to the Big Screen. What stops it short of greatness, and it’s likely a deal-breaker in terms of Best Picture Oscar: it’s a remake.

(156 min)