Worst Side Story

Julia Hanson, A&E Editor

Jaws, E.T., and Schindler’s List. For director Steven Spielberg, “impressive” is an understatement. As for West Side Story 2021, “decent” is an overstatement. I was never able to love the original 1961 West Side Story, and Speilberg had the opportunity to change my mind. With a charismatic cast and my favorite familiar face, Ansel Elgort playing the love interest, today’s version beat the first– although to me, that doesn’t say much. 

Following the original to the T, West Side Story opens with the “Jets”– the white gang of New York City snapping their fingers in unison as they’re on the prowl for some “Sharks”– the Puerto Rican gang. With this major rivalry, the Jets attempt to look as intimidating as possible, walking slowly in their tight 60s jeans with their greasy head of hair on a swivel. The pack has tough grimaces on their faces but the way they burst into song and exaggerate each motion in their dance moves just makes me want to laugh at them. Not because they’re men who are singing and dancing, but because it is so ironic.

Sometimes in a movie, appreciating the love story is like believing in Santa. It’s always a quickly developed relationship where the characters meet by chance, and say “I love you” thirty minutes later in the film. As a watcher, you know it’s unrealistic and would never happen to you no matter how hard you wish. But you come back for the cheesy romance everytime. For the first time ever, this love story was too cheesy for me. 

Maria (Rachel Zegler), a Shark, and Tony (Ansel Elgort), a Jet, meet at the school dance and create total chaos between the gangs as star-crossed lovers. Just over halfway through the movie, they are harmonizing in song to become spiritually married. Singing in their opera-like pitches with eyes twinkling at each other, I could only think “ew” instead of “aw”. In this Romeo and Juliet parallel, I’d almost rather read Shakespeare than sit through this movie. 

“Love conquers all” is a common but classic theme. Zegler does a powerful job of bringing this home in the end scene as she screams at both gangs for the tragedy they have created out of petty hate. Simply being a slightly better version of the original, West Side Story was a flop in my eyes. I’m sure someone out there would love it, probably just my grandma though.