The first reactions to 20th Century Studios’ “West Side Story” are beginning to pour in following the film’s premiere in New York City on Monday evening. Those who attended the screening took to social media, voicing praise for director Steven Spielberg’s reimagining of the classic musical.
In this new version, Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort portray Maria and Tony, whose ill-fated romance flags the fires of the bitter rivalry between local street gangs the Sharks and the Jets. The cast also includes Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo and Mike Faist as Riff. Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her performance as Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of the musical, appears in the remake in a new role and served as an executive producer. The remake was written by Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) and marks Spielberg’s first feature length musical.
Variety’s own executive editor of film and media Brent Lang called the film “bold and stirring.” He also voiced some criticism for Elgort’s lead performance before highlighting the overall production as a likely Oscar contender.
Steven Spielberg’s #westsidestory is bold and stirring. The best parts are Tony Kushner’s book and the dramatic reimagining of classic numbers such as “America” and “Somewhere.” Ansel was a bit flat, but the rest of the cast is great and it feels like an #Oscars contender. pic.twitter.com/PAYJcoVAfZ
— Brent Lang (@BrentALang) November 30, 2021
Chris Evangelista, chief film critic at /Film, hailed the film as “top-tier Spielberg.”
WEST SIDE STORY is *phenomenal.* Steven Spielberg has been talking about making a musical for almost his entire career, and this was worth the wait. This is top-tier Spielberg.
— Chris Evangelista (@cevangelista413) November 30, 2021
Film critic Robert Daniels prefaced his favorable opinion by declaring his surprise over having enjoyed the film. After voicing a few issues on the technical side, he highlighted the performances of DeBose, Moreno and Alvarez.
A shocker: I didn’t dislike Spielberg’s #WestSideStory. It’s not a patch on the original (what is?). People’s skin are rendered way too pale. And the VFX is jarring. But Ariana DeBose and her evocative eyes were incredible. So were Rita Moreno and David Alvarez. Ansel? Eh. pic.twitter.com/OwEPlVuv4L
— Robert Daniels (@812filmreviews) November 30, 2021
Thrillist senior entertainment writer Esther Zuckerman simply affirmed that Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner are not talents to be doubted.
it’s sorta like you shouldn’t underestimate steven spielberg and tony kushner
— Esther Zuckerman (@ezwrites) November 30, 2021
Film critic Jesse Hassenger also enjoyed the film, highlighting the misfortune of there being no other Steven Spielberg-directed musicals on the immediate horizon.
I was hoping that WEST SIDE STORY (2021) would sate my decades-long desire for Spielberg to do a musical. Alas, it is so beautifully shot and staged, such an absolute schooling of the usual musical directors, that I fear I now want him to make two or three more.
— Jesse Hassenger (@rockmarooned) November 30, 2021
See more reactions below.
WEST SIDE STORY: when every frame of your movie looks like something you’d hang on the walls of your home that’s The Kaminski Method
— 🐛 Emma Stefansky 🐛 (@stefabsky) November 30, 2021
Hot damn. So, yes, as it turns out, Steven Spielberg knows how to make a WEST SIDE STORY movie
— Mike Ryan (@mikeryan) November 30, 2021
Steven Spielberg’s #WestSideStory is a TRIUMPH! It's beautiful & brilliantly photographed – a real love letter to NYC w/ a tremendous ensemble cast who truly redefine this classic story for a new generation. Shout outs to @rachelzegler & @ArianaDeBose who CRUSH it in this film. pic.twitter.com/9wJbUJclnV
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) November 30, 2021
WEST SIDE STORY: If it's not quite essential, it's still tremendously entertaining. Vivid, beautiful work from our greatest living American moviemaker. Invigorating choice to have subtitle-less Spanish comprise ~40% of dialogue. David Alvarez is the breakout, but everyone's aces.
— Barry Hertz (@HertzBarry) November 30, 2021
#WestSideStory is EXTRAORDINARY. 10 more Oscars please! #Spielberg's cam work is UNREAL- directors pls watch! The CAST- megatalented megawatt energy balls! @rachelzegler is magic @ArianaDeBose may be the 2nd Anita 2 win🏆#MikeFaist #DavidAlvarez r lightning! LOVED the love story! pic.twitter.com/ErFQ8Oke50
— Nikki Novak (@NikkiNovak) November 30, 2021
I’m in awe at how phenomenal WEST SIDE STORY is.
Steven Spielberg makes it look easy — but every frame of this film is him at the top of his game.
There’s not a misstep — figuratively or literally.
Oh, and @rachelzegler is about to be one of the biggest stars on the planet. pic.twitter.com/9tZ0yZpPBj
— Jake Hamilton (@JakesTakes) November 30, 2021
I saw the new West Side Story tonight and WOW it is spectacular. Sweeping, emotional, remarkable staging, each shot looks like a painting, and I swear I didn’t breathe until the credits.
— Alex Wyse (@alexwyse) November 29, 2021
There’s no day quite like new Spielberg day. #WestSideStory is magical. The choreography is off the charts, it’s filmed beautifully, and there are some wonderful performances happening throughout (including Rita Moreno). But Rachel Zegler, she blew me away as Maria. pic.twitter.com/XBL9VOPK7P
— Chris E. Hayner (@ChrisHayner) November 30, 2021
Steven Spielberg’s #WestSideStory is stunning. His first musical is without a doubt superior to the 1961 film. The cinematography, music and dancing are amazing, and most importantly, it treats Puerto Ricans & Latinx community with the respect they deserve. Spielberg delivers. pic.twitter.com/3tb7eSvbzM
— Fico (@FicoCangiano) November 30, 2021