Casual_Critic’s review published on Letterboxd:
I have not read the book or seen the play this film succeeded. Also, I have read "Romeo and Juliet" three times and seen two adaptations of it despite not liking the story. This is mostly a first impression for me, but I am familiar enough with the inspiration to see the parallels.
It is "Romeo and Juliet", but in 1950's West Manhattan with rival gangs instead of rival families.
- Good update to "Romeo and Juliet". The modern setting and language makes it easier to follow and get invested with no need for a Shakespearean dictionary or reference material.
- Colors are bold and striking. Appealing to the eyes.
- Cinematography is very solid with dynamic camera angles, unique introductory shots, and clever transitions for the time period it was released.
- Dance choreography is energized and organized with fun songs to boot.
- Characters are stereotypes, but charming ones with funny banter and nice costumes.
- The confrontational scene between the lead character, Tony (Richard Beymer), and the drugstore owner, Doc (Ned Glass), is pretty dramatic and intensely delivered.
- The depiction of gangs and turf warfare is naively unrealistic.
- A layer of 1960's and Broadway cheesiness coats the entire tone of the film.
- Tony and Maria's (Natalie Wood) romance really tests believability after a pivotal confrontation around halfway into the film. It didn't work for me.
- Some songs feel forced rather than naturally occurring in the moment (Ex: "Cool").
If you can get past the cheesy nature of it, "West Side Story" is a clever, fun update to the iconic (though dated) Shakespearean tale that shines in its Broadway-style visuals, entertaining characters, and lively musical numbers.