Widely derided as a distorting fun-house mirror in which we see the current crop of awards favourites, the 2022 Golden Globes may well be on the naughty step in the eyes of the world’s media, so it was inevitable that this year’s choices played safe; we’d certainly expect best actor to be a slog between Will Smith and Andrew Garfield, that Belfast and Nicole Kidman in Being the Ricardos would be in contention, and that Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story would pick up for awards; despite a lack of box-office momentum, the reworking of the classic musical was always likely to thrill the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, yet their choice might just correct a specific wrong…
With films being routinely and untimely yanked out of the cinemas in the hope that the next blockbuster will click with a disease-ravaged public, West Side Story never had much of a chance to connect, coming out a few days before Spiderman, the unanimous choice of 2021’s ultra-selective audience. There’s little chance of a word-of-mouth big-screen revival given that the film is likely to appear on streaming later his month (Jan 2022), so any awards tractions seems unlikely to benefit cinemas. And yet while it has faults, this new version of the Bernstein and Sondheim property has plenty to recommend it, namely the music, the exuberant dancing, and a woke revision of the story that at least suggests some serious thought went into it.
Essentially, it’s Romeo and Juliet updated to the gangs of New York. On the island of Manhattan circa 1957, the Jets square up to the Sharks, while the area’s on-going gentrification threatens the existence of them with the end of a wrecking ball. Tony (Ansel Elgort) is now an ex-con, having served a year in the pen, and seems much older than the doe-eyed Maria (Rachel Zegler) who he meets at a dance. The course of true love never runs true, and Tony ends up killing Maria’s brother in a rumble in a salt warehouse, and you probably already know how this one turns out. It’s hard to think of a more copper-bottomed property that West Side Story, with every song a home run, but while this new version can’t match the shock of the street choreography featured in the 1961 Robert Wise Oscar-winner, it certainly offers lots of colour, energy and showmanship to burn.
Elgort’s smirking presence doesn’t seem like a good match for Tony, but it’s hard to fault the support from Ariana DeBose as Anita or David Alvarez as Bernardo, and it’s a bonus to have Rita Moreno return in a different role. Not all the changes in Tony Kushner’s script work, and the wit is very much confined to Sondheim’s lyrics rather than the stuffy dialogue, but the vigorous staging of rousing numbers like Officer Krupke should please purists. 2022’s West Side Story attempts to correct some of the cultural assumptions of the original stage and screen property, and even if it ends up as just another entry in that’s year’s trash-pile of musicals audiences didn’t turn out for (In the Heights, Dear Evan Hansen) , it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser in search of a crowd, and the revival in the film’s fortunes might as well start somewhere.
Thanks to the Walt Disney Company for access to West Side Story, in cinemas now.