West Side Story (1961)

West Side Story (1961)

1961 NR 152 Minutes

Crime | Drama | Music

In the slums of the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, a gang of Polish-American teenagers called the Jets compete with a rival gang of recently immigrated Puerto Ricans, the Sharks, to "own"...

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • WHAT I LIKED: In many ways, classic, purebred musicals like Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' 'West Side Story,' are rather close in language to silent era movies, as everything in them is portrayed through extremely overt, theatrical physicality. On the one hand that brilliantly demands that you keep your eyes on the screen at all times to watch every fascinating move the characters make, and at the same time it's always delightful to behold.

    In this particular case both of those things are especially true, as the choreography of every scene - from the huge balletic opening that sets the scene of New York's two rival gangs, to the simple staging of the two lovers caught up in it all exhanging a conversation in a fire stair - is masterful. In each of those moments, every character's bodily and facial movements are manipulated to portray exactly what the scene is about; the local gang members puff their chest out in anger, the Puerto Ricans smile gleefully and sarcastically in their hard pushes for good old African freedom, and Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood) flop longingly into each other's eyes. All of that is a brilliantly captivating way of bringing a story to life, and in this case the story in question is of course a liberal twist on the utterly quintessential Romeo and Juliet about how racism and conflict wrecks lives, and - in the suddenly earnest conclusion - how only love should persevere.

    WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: That overt, theatrical language brings things to life very quickly and clearly, so it's arguable that the lengthy numbers and scenes that effectively make the same point over and over aren't all that necessary, especially with such clunky dialogue in between. After all, without the nuance of more genuine humanity on display, it's hard to emotionally engage beyond the surface for any great length of time.

    VERDICT: Its high theatricality makes 'West Side Story,' brilliantly captivating, but the film arguably isn't genuine or concise enough to engage you emotionally in its great story.