Starring: Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris
Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
Running Time: 153 mins
West Side Story is an American film about a man and a woman who fall in love. However, they both belong to opposite sides of a vicious gang war in Manhattan between the Jets and the Sharks, making their love an impossibility.
This is a classic of the movie musical genre, with an epic running time, great dancing and a heap of songs. Strangely, however, that’s not why it’s an engaging watch. There are too many songs, the dances go on too long, and it feels too much like a stage play rather than a film adaptation. However, the story is pretty good, and although its focus isn’t always in the right place, it has a much deeper and more intelligent plot than the majority of these classic musicals.
Let’s start on the plus side, with that story. Normally, these sorts of musicals are more about the romance of two main characters, and often not much else. Whilst it’s definitely true that the film does focus a lot on a principal romance between the male and female lead, you at least get a lot more insight into the world that surrounds them.
What I liked most about West Side Story was the way that it showed you the world of the gangs in Manhattan. They may be pretty tame in comparison to modern gang movies, but there are a lot of really interesting scenes that look at the people in the gangs, and their relationship with the rest of society.
The romance isn’t too bad either. It’s a little cheesy at times, and some of their duets do nothing to really rectify that, however there are moments when you can get caught up in the Romeo and Juliet story of their love, and that’s good to see.
Other positives from this film come from its lively atmosphere. I said earlier that it feels too much like a stage play for the big screen, and I stick by that, however there are moments, particularly I’m the first act when all the singing hasn’t gotten boring yet, the upbeat and colourful style that the directors bring to the film make it a joy to watch.
However, that is only for a certain period of time, and by the time the intermission comes, the theatrical nature of this film really begins to wear. Of course, that’s a symptom of the fact that this genre of musicals is a little dated, but others like The Sound Of Music are still enjoyable to watch and sing along to throughout.
Combined with the fact that the song and dance numbers go on too long, and that the film physically looks so much like a stage play, to the extent that the directors basically use spotlights on set, there’s very little that makes this a great movie. It might as well have been a recording of the play put on screen, because this doesn’t feel like a cinematic adaptation at all.
Overall, there’s no doubting this film’s legendary status, and the story, as well as some of the performances and directing live up to that, but the fact that this goes for such a theatrical, melodramatic vibe from start to finish makes it ultimately tough to sit through for two and a half hours, and that’s why it gets s 7.1 from me.