West Side Story – A Review

Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY is currently free on Disney Plus – which may, to some, still seem too steep a cost to watch yet another musical forced onto the big screen. But I decided it’d be worthwhile, if only to provide an informative movie review for all of you, my virtuous readers–but only after accounting for inflation.

So it turns out this must be a popular story, because people keep telling it all the time. Steven Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY is based on the 1961 film WEST SIDE STORY, co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, which is based on Robbins’s 1957 stage musical WEST SIDE STORY, which is in turn famously based on the popular play by William Shakespeare, TITUS ANDRONICUS, which explains all of the revenge, rape, and murder. Er, I mean, ROMEO AND JULIET.

The story takes place in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1950s, and is, as I’m sure you’re all aware, about two street gangs–the Jets and the Sharks–and their violent feud over who has the worst gang name. They have a big rumble with knives and there’s a gun and lots of punching and so on, but if that sounds badass to you, let me be clear: there is still an annoying romance and quite a bit of singing and dancing.

The Sharks are Puerto Ricans, while the Jets are beleaguered, unemployed white guys. The Sharks work jobs and get racisted against, while the Jets walk around town making trouble, which mostly involves snapping in synch, jaywalking, and stealing bubble gum. Oh, and the raping.

Both gangs are convinced of their unfair mistreatment at the hands of society, which makes sense for the Sharks, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t really get the Jets’ grievance with society–not at first, anyway. But the moment I saw all the skinny white boys in sweaty undershirts nail a sudden, perfectly synchronized tour en l’air, I realized: they’re unemployed performing arts students! Of course they feel betrayed by society! These danseurs live in a condemned neighborhood because they bid their future on useless degrees!

So just like any good unemployed New York dance troupe, they decide they’re going to rumble with another gang. And then everyone lives happily ever after, with no tragic consequences at all! (This is a spoiler-free review; let me have this.)

But how does this movie stack up against other retellings of Titus Andronicus? Some reviews say this version is too “woke,” what with the tomboy character who’s obsessed with their pronouns. But they were in the older version, too, so you can safely ignore such criticism. Some reviewers point to an insidious woke undercurrent in the musical numbers, such as in “America (Is A Neo-Con Colonial Empire),” or “Defund Officer Krupke,” or “I Feel Pretty (Good About How Joe Biden’s Doing),” or “One Hand, One Heartbeat, One Abortion.” But I’m not seeing it.

So what score do I give this upbeat musical romance? Well, first I add up all the happy endings, and then subtract the number of tragic deaths, which leaves us with… oh, boy. Huh. Well, maybe a negative score isn’t so bad–that is, after accounting for inflation.

This article first appeared in the Duzett Gazette, the really official newsletter of Carl Duzett. Sign up here to get more content like this in your inbox, as well as some other content that isn’t quite like it, but is probably also good.

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