A man and a woman from rival gangs fall in love, but
tensions only grow between their respective friends.
West Side Story (1961)
Directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise
Written by Ernest Lehman
Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland, Ned Glass, Tucker Smith,
David Winters, Tony Mordente, Eliot Feld, William Bramley
Based on the stage play by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein,
and Stephen Sondheim
Inspired by the stage play Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Oscar Wins - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design,
Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score
(Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal)
Oscar Nominations - Best Adapted Screenplay
West Side Story is considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. It points out and condemns the hypocrisy and corrosivity of racism, using the template of Romeo & Juliet, a familiar story. I thought the performances were great, the choreography was stellar, and the point is well-made. But let's be honest. The film is painfully dated. The Jets and the Sharks are ridiculous and impossible to take seriously as rival street gangs, and the entire love story is haunted by the fact that the lovebirds have known each other for less than a day before the declarations begin. It's the same problem I had with the original Romeo & Juliet story. It's just not a very good love story.
I understand that West Side Story is an exaggerated musical, but so was Sweeney Todd and I believed the characters in that one. I just can't get past the hilarious swinging dances that both gangs do when they're threatened, like gaggles of hyper-aggressive peacocks. Plus, the film's unnecessarily long runtime of two and a half hours makes most of the film drag on as you inch towards the ending, which doesn't even feel that sincere. Tony (Richard Baymer) dies due to gang violence, but Maria (Natalie Wood) doesn't. The whole point of the Romeo & Juliet story was that the violence surrounding their love leads to both of their deaths, and both sides form a truce because of it. If only one of them dies, the other side feels no sympathy and the war continues.
West Side Story is forever a classic due to its iconic songs and pageantry, but it has far too many glaring story and realism issues that simply bug me too much. And that's probably a problem on my part, as this film is widely celebrated and I totally understand why. But it's not for me. Some movies from the 20th century don't hold up anymore because of style, story, or something else. I'm sure at the time, this movie was a masterpiece, and for some people, it still is. But not me.