West Side Story ★★★½

This is why star ratings are stupid. West Side Story arguably doesn’t put a foot wrong and yet here I am giving it 3.5 stars. I’ve never believed in “objective” film criticism. I think someone can absolutely make a valid argument that The Godfather is a piece of shit, just as someone else could claim that Michael Bay is a better director than Stanley Kubrick and not be wrong. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I’ve just never felt that certain films “deserve” to be given 5 stars on principal. I’ve always just rated films based on how much I liked them, which is why you’ll often see kind of odd ratings on my profile if you’ve followed me for any length of time. To me, the “best” films are my favourite films, just as I’d expect anyone else’s idea of the best to be their favourites. I’ve never understood the “these are my favourite films, but these are the best films” argument.

Anyway, the problem with my logic is that when it comes to a film like this, I feel sort of bad for just giving it 3.5, because there are very few reasons I could give for why this wasn’t everything it should have been, and yet here I am just saying it’s merely “good.” Maybe the story is a little thin for 150 minutes, and maybe the Tony/Maria relationship doesn’t have the best songs and is thus not super compelling, but at the same time it’s amazing how modern this feels. The weirdly ominous silent opening of the camera gliding over the top of NYC feels like something out of a daytime-Heat, and it’s impressive that the film tackles serious issues such as racism, immigration and poverty within tap-dancing songs. I also like how the film subverts traditional ideas of masculinity, since normally dancing is the last thing people associate with it, yet here, to be tough is to dance and be graceful, which is awesome. I also like how it really captured NYC despite being an ostensibly heightened musical. It’s beautifully shot and creates a truly lived-in environment and has a very particular sense of place.

And yet when it was over I was just like “yep, that was good.” It was only when I thought about the film after that I realised it had done pretty much everything as well as I had hoped. Maybe this just comes back to the emotional numbness I’ve developed that has permeated my recent film watching, or maybe it’s an argument as to why I should just abandon star ratings in general. At least I can finally check this one off.

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