Oscar Movie Month: "West Side Story" Review

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Westside story is the award winning adaptation of the classic romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliette. The feuding families become two warring New York City gangs- the white Jets led by Riff and the Puerto Rican Sharks, led by Bernardo. Their hatred escalates to a point where neither can coexist with any form of understanding. But when Riff's best friend (and former Jet) Tony and Bernardo's younger sister Maria meet at a dance, no one can do anything to stop their love.
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Oscar Movie Month: "West Side Story" Review

-- Rating: NR
Length: 152 minutes
Release Date: October 18, 1961
Directed by: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
Genre: Musical, Crime, Drama

The classic love story often follows a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who falls in love with a beautiful girl. While thousands of films have used the same plot, few did it as well as the musical "West Side Story," which updated the story of "Romeo and Juliet" for a new generation.

Maria (Natalie Wood) is a classic beauty who yearns for something more out of life. She watches as her brother Bernardo (George Charkiris) leads a gang called the Sharks. The Sharks share a long-standing rivalry with the Jets gang, led by Bernardo's enemy Riff (Russ Tamblyn). The film would just be another story of gang warfare if Maria didn't meet Tony (Richard Baymer), a member of the Jets.

Their love story is the driving force of "West Side Story," and that relationship is the most memorable aspect of the film. Even as the Jets and the Sharks prepare to face off, Maria and Tony cannot stay away from each other. The film delves into issues of social standing, poverty, love, and war, but it keeps viewers entertained with strong musical numbers and fantastic acting.

"Romeo and Juliet" told the story of two star-crossed lovers who wanted nothing more than to be happy together. The couple was willing to do whatever it took to be with each other, even going against the wishes of their families. While "West Side Story" doesn't have the same heartbreaking ending as the original play, it does draw inspiration from that story. Maria and Tony come from two opposing families and know they shouldn't be together, but that doesn't stop their feelings. The musical even has a few deaths that show the viewers that life isn't always perfect.

"West Side Story" originated on Broadway and has had dozens of revivals since the 1960s, but none of those revivals can hold a candle to the original. The main thing that sets the film apart from the live show is the acting. Natalie Wood was already a celebrity before the film, but it cemented her status has a star. She is the perfect combination of feisty and innocent, portraying a young woman who finds the world around her confusing. Though she believes in the importance of loyalty, she cannot stop herself from falling in love. Wood's performance is amazing as she shows Maria's happiness at finding the man of her dreams and her frustration at trying to stop her brother from potentially taking that man's life.

Chakiris is equally great in his role as Maria's older brother. The look of his face when he discovers her relationship with Tony is one that no one can forget. He manages to look confused and betrayed at the same time. He knows that he should be happy for his sister, but he isn't willing to step aside and let her experience the happiness that she deserves.

While Chakiris and Wood share a familial bond on-screen, the real chemistry is found between Wood and Baymer. The two shared such a believable chemistry that many wondered if they had an off-screen relationship. Whether the two share lingering looks, burst into a duet, or simply stand beside each other, their chemistry oozes off the screen.

Wood's acting benefits from the addition of Rita Moreno to the cast. Moreno is one of the few actors from the film still working today, playing the mother in "Happily Divorced," and watching her in "West Side Story" is a treat for her fans. The vibrant energy that she brings to the role is something that viewers still talk about today. Moreno plays Anita, who has a deep connection to Maria and her brother. Not only does she date Bernardo, but she is Maria's best friend. She is one of the first to know about her burgeoning new relationship, and she is the only one who Maria feels she can talk to about her troubles.

The main reason why "West Side Story" still has so many fans is its amazing soundtrack, which is one of the most popular recordings of all time. The songs are so memorable that some viewers might find themselves humming the tunes long after the credits roll. While the dance scenes and settings sometimes look a little dated compared to modern musicals, most viewers can overlook those elements because of the intriguing plot and excellent acting. "West Side Story" is a classic film that viewers never forget, and fans of the film might find themselves watching it over and over again.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars