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West Side Story


#86 - West Side Story
Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961



A musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet that substitutes feuding Italian families for New York street gangs in the present day.

With films that are considered all-time classics, I do have to wonder whether or not I can truly say something about it that hasn't already been said in the decades following its release. That's why I tend to favour these subjective reviews about what I thought, but I need something more than just a laundry list of reasons why I don't personally like it all that much. West Side Story is most definitely a classic, but I won't deny it had its flaws. Granted, it's a very crisp-looking and well-choreographed musical, but I kind of fault it over its two leads. Natalie Wood is generally a good actress, but she doesn't make for an especially convincing Puerto Rican (which becomes much more obvious when she's in a scene with the other Puerto Rican characters) and it's a bit too obvious that she's being dubbed over during songs where she performs. Even so, she still does alright, as does Richard Beymer as her opposite number. Indeed, the show is stolen by the supporting characters, especially George Chakiris and Rita Moreno as Wood's brother and best friend respectively who definitely steal every scene they appear in.

The songs themselves are a matter of dispute. The livelier numbers are great (case in point, "America", which is probably the best song here), but the softer love songs...not so much. I end up coming close to tuning them out completely even as I pay attention to them. A minor grievance against such a well-made film, but the inconsistency when it comes to engaging numbers is a significant problem when it comes to a musical, especially one that's about two-and-a-half hours long. Even so, it's generally entertaining in one way or another.