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Oscars 2022: The validity of West Side Story

Another of our reviews arrives to the special dedicated to the films nominated for the Best Picture category at the 2022 Oscars. These are our impressions of Steven Spielberg's West Side Story

Perhaps one of the most anticipated film releases of last year was the new version of "West Side Story", the already classic of Broadway, by Steven Spielberg. The director premiered a new version of the famous musical and with this he verified its validity in our days. The film tells us the story of the forbidden love of Tony and María, two young people in New York in the fifties. The original musical is based on "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare's work is very known (perhaps it is his best-known work among the general public). It tells the story of a forbidden love between two young people from enemy families. In the 1957 Broadway musical, this story is told in the setting of a gang war in 1950s New York. Irish and Puerto Ricans fight for territory in a neighborhood where almost everyone is a migrant. The first film adaptation of the successful musical took place in 1961 and was a box office success. Many actors and actresses from the stage version took part in the film. Unlike its predecessor, this new version of Spielberg, although highly anticipated by critics, was a box office failure.

Validity and update of "West Side Story"

Like any play by Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet" is still relevant today. Add to this the issue of migration and gang wars, and "West Side Story" is clearly a story that speaks to today's audience. The issue of migrants has already transcended the American scene and now includes much more than the reflection on the American dream. The problem of refugees and migrants in Latin America increasingly demands that these stories be told.

So it makes some sense that Steven Spielberg has decided to update it, because perhaps if it were released again, the public could again converse with this story. However, aside from new arrangements and a new cast, the story doesn't get updated too much. There is not much that this new version contributes to the original musical, which moved the audience at the time. Perhaps this explains the failure at the box office: it is not enough to remake a production to update it; the public does not want to see the same thing that they already saw in 1961, even if it is very good.

It is necessary to mention a claim that this new film makes and that is perhaps what most moves the viewer who has seen both versions. The actress Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 version, plays a new character in this new adaptation, written for her. This is Valentina, a kind of Puerto Rican matriarch of the Jets, the Irish gang. In Spielberg's film, Valentina saves Anita from the sexual violence that the original Anita herself is a victim of by the Jets and rebukes them. The Irish girls, in fact, also defend Anita even if she is from the opposite gang. Thus, this new production has a vindictive gesture with the character of Anita, who saves herself in the body of another character.

Read also: Oscars 2022: Teenage love at Licorice Pizza

Will it win the Oscar?

The film, although very similar to the already excellent 1961, is very good. It offers the viewer a new visual world and the songs in its new versions are equally exciting. Also the musical sequences are done in an exemplary way, as would be expected from a director like Spielberg, so this production deserves the nominations it has. In narrative terms, however, Spielberg has passed up the opportunity to bring to the screen an updated version that could have brought something new to the original story, and audiences have punished him for it.