Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
**Part of the Best Picture Project**
I can't concede to the idea that West Side Story is a perfect film, but there's something about the film as a whole that represents something I miss about the lost Golden Age of Hollywood.
There's such a preoccupation these days with films being overly serious and dealing with serious themes and ideas, that we've forgotten there's an artistry to mass entertainment, and with this, we've almost forgotten how to have fun. We live in a very cynical world where we put nihilistic ideals that do nothing to better ourselves over art that values life and every little idiosyncrasy it comes with.
West Side Story opens with a scene that is so strange, especially today, that it is utterly surreal. It's a dance sequence that consists of two gangs fighting over territory to Leonard Bernstein's music and Robert Wise's penchant for tight and timely editing. It's a massively engaging sequence full of choreographed spectacle that informs us of the laws of the world this story we get brought into. Show don't tell, indeed.
The whole film of course is a perfunctory retelling of Romeo and Juliet without the intended comedy of two inane individuals blindly falling in love, but it supplants this with some nice commentary on race (most wonderfully surmised in the song "America" sung by the Puerto Ricans) and class ("Gee, Officer Krupke"), and at 2.5 hours the film also swings by swiftly as each event in the film informs the scene that follows.
Admittedly, like Romeo and Juliet, the main romance between Tony and Maria is where the film falters the most, but there's still a lovely bit of chemistry filled air between the two, and their situation definitely feels circumstantially tragic. It's the conflict between the two gangs where most of the interest of this film is directed at.
West Side Story isn't perfect, but there's something about it coming from an age where entertainment and fun was valued even when dealing with serious themes that feels valuable. Had this film been made today, the gangs would simply stare at each other brooding while an oppressive Clint Mansell score overcomes everything. Conflicts would be forced, cynicism would be everywhere, themes would be openly discussed, and you could damn well bet there'd be no dancing and singing.