West Side Story ★★½

West Side Story, a film adaptation of the stage play of the same name, takes the familiar story Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet and adds some twists to make it fresh and unique: following rival gangs in 1950s New York City, the film adds an ethnic twist to complement the traditional tale of star-crossed lovers and the tragedy that ensues.

So much of the film's charm comes from the impressively crafted musical numbers. Of course the highly stylized dance numbers and songs clash with the idea of gang warfare, but there's something about the way it's handled here that has an undeniable amount of charm in its campiness. The dance numbers themselves have such an immense scale to them, and are beautifully choreographed by co-director Jerome Robbins. Each set feels like a real location hidden somewhere in the alleyways of New York, and the camerawork is slick and stylish in capturing every number and every scene: all in all, it's just a technically marvelous movie, and certainly deserving of the many technical Oscars it won.

Where it falters is in the narrative. The romance aspect of the story, following Tony (Richard Beymer) and Maria (Natalie Wood), is handled nicely and the two leads share nice chemistry, and the gang warfare side of the movie is handled well and ultimately ends up strengthening the romance plot: the problem is that, like many plays, it starts to drag in the second act. Both subplots come to a halt and crawl their way through story development that could easily be covered in half as much time, and with the film running two and a half hours long, this pacing can sometimes become kind of boring. This is a mostly minor problem though, because a film as charming as this is simply too absorbing to be brought down too heavily by a pacing issue. It's a classic for a reason, one that even those who aren't fans of musicals or Shakespeare can enjoy.

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