‘West Side Story’ thrills with music—yet disappoints with story

Courtesy Disney

“West Side Story,” the second cinematic treatment of the Broadway musical loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” features great music, choreography, costumes and scenery. In particular, the song “America” sung by the Puerto Rican members of the cast was spectacular.

That said, the chemistry between romantic leads Maria and Tony was subpar. Although the film is heavily influenced by one of the most well known love stories of all time, it was simply hard to relate to their tale. In my view, the lack of chemistry between the leads brings down the other great elements of the movie.

The story is set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side that, due to construction, is being torn down. Two gangs, who represent the racial divide in the neighborhood, are fighting for who will control this small section of the city. The gangs are the Jets (comprised of male caucasians) and the Sharks (comprised of male Puerto Ricans). It is against this backdrop that Maria (Rachel Zegler), a Puerto Rican girl, and a former leader of the Jets, Tony (Ansel Elgort), meet and fall in love “at first sight.”

A great deal of plot and many characters are crammed into a short run time that makes it hard to get invested in anything because there is so much going on. Perhaps if director Steven Spielberg didn’t try to tackle such a large variety of important issues during this movie, the parts it did focus on would have been more meaningful.

I give the new “West Side Story” a B rating because though it was technically brilliant, the chaotic plot would be better served in a longer movie or even an episodic series.

Grade: B