tek's rating:

West Side Story (approved)
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This came out in 1961. I first saw it in 2021, on the night that a remake was released in theaters. The movie was based on a play which was inspired by "Romeo and Juliet". I've never seen the play, but I gather there are some differences in the movie. Of course, I have seen plenty of adaptations of Romeo and Juliet (and I suppose I must have read the original at some point), so I could certainly see the parallels there. But of course there are also a lot of differences. Anyway... I'm afraid I have to say that I didn't like this movie nearly as much as I'd hoped I would. The dancing was decent, and some of the singing was okay, but I didn't love any of it. Some of it I just found very "meh", and some of it was too high-pitched for my taste. Like, it sounded like opera, and I couldn't make out all the lyrics. Also, I like Natalie Wood, but I couldn't help thinking of her playing Maria as whitewashing, which I never like. (In fact, I have no idea how many of the Puerto Rican characters were played by Latino actors, and how many might have been white.) As for the story itself, it's one of those things where I have to suspend my disbelief in love at first sight, which I'm willing to do when I really enjoy the story, but I thought this one was just okay. I know it's supposed to be one of the greatest musicals of all time, but there are plenty of musicals I've liked much more than this.

So. There are two rival teenage gangs in New York City's Upper West Side, in the 1950s: the Jets (who are white) and the Sharks (who are Puerto Rican immigrants). They're always getting into fights, and we see one being broken up by a pair of cops named Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke. We see them a number of times throughout the film. Schrank at least, and probably Krupke, are prejudiced against the Puerto Ricans, but they don't like the Jets much more than the Sharks. Anyway, the leader of the Jets, Riff, wants to have a "war council" with the Sharks, who are led by Bernardo, to plan on a rumble to decide things between them once and for all. Riff wants his friend and co-founder of the Jets, Tony, to come to the meeting, but Tony doesn't want to get involved. He had quit the gang some time ago, and now works for a drug store/soda shop owner called Doc, who also doesn't like all the fighting between the gangs. (Doc is probably my favorite character in the movie. He reminds me of Friar Laurence.) But Riff decides he wants to hold the war council at Doc's store.

To set up the meeting, the Jets attend a dance that is considered neutral territory, and the Sharks are also there. Riff convinces Tony to come, and there he meets and instantly falls in love with Bernardo's younger sister, Maria. Meanwhile, Riff and Bernardo make plans for the rumble. When Maria later begs Tony to go to the rumble and put a stop to it, he agrees, but... that doesn't go so well. And I guess I don't want to say much more than that, except to mention a few other characters. There's Bernardo's girlfriend and Maria's best friend, Anita (Rita Moreno), who plays an important part throughout the film. At one point she sings a song about liking life in America, while Bernardo doesn't like it. At another point, when Maria has plans to meet Tony at Doc's so they can run away together, Maria gets delayed by Lt. Schrank, who has some questions for her. So she sends Anita to let Tony know she'd be late. When she gets there, she doesn't get to see Tony, because he's hiding from Chino (Maria's arranged fiancé), who wants to kill Tony for a reason I won't get into. (It's more than just jealousy.) But all the other Jets are at Doc's, and they harass Anita. Eventually it even seemed to me like they were going to gang rape her, before they're stopped by Doc. Other than that, I also wanted to mention a younger girl (rather a tomboy) who keeps bugging the Jets to let her join the gang, but they always brush her off. I never caught her name, but I liked her. (She kind of reminded me of Dolores from Grease 2.) We don't really get to know many of the Jets or Sharks as individuals, though there's one Jet called Baby John, who is more sensitive than his friends, which I liked about him. And I guess I don't know what else to say. It's not a bad movie, and I did enjoy it at least a little bit. I'm definitely glad to have seen it once, because I've been wanting to for many years. But I can't imagine ever wanting to watch it again (nor any remakes even once, since I'm now familiar enough with the story).

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