‘West Side Story’ Review: In Love and War, 1957 Might Be Tonight

The Jets and the Sharks, a gang of white teenagers and their Puerto Rican antagonists, are not mirror images of each other. Ostensibly fighting for control of a few battered city blocks in the western 1960s, they collide like taxis speeding toward a one-way street.

The Sharks are the children of a migrant working class struggling to rise, a generation (or less) removed from primarily rural poverty in the Caribbean and determined to find a foothold in the imperial metropolis, where they are greeted with prejudice and suspicion. Bernardo (David Alvarez), their leader, is a boxer. His girlfriend, Anita (Ariana DeBose), works as a seamstress, while his younger sister, Maria (Rachel Zegler), works the night shift as a cleaner at the Gimbels department store. Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera), whom Bernardo and Anita believe would be a good match for María, is a future accountant with glasses. (But of course, Maria falls in love with Tony, a reluctant Jet played by heartthrob Ansel Elgort.) They all have plans, aspirations, dreams. The violence of the streets is, for Bernardo, a necessary and temporary evil, something that must be overcome with hard work and community cohesion on the way to something better.

The Jets, by contrast, are the bitter remnant of a cohort of immigrants who, for the most part, have moved, to the Long Island suburbs and the bungalows of Queens, to a slice of postwar prosperity. As the cops, Officer Krupke (Brian D’Arcy James) and Lieutenant Schrank (Corey Stoll) are on hand to explain, and as the Jets themselves testify, these children are the product of family dysfunction and social neglect. With no aspirations for the future, they are held together by clan loyalty and racist resentment – an empty sense of white right and an ever-expanding catalog of grievances. His nihilism is embodied by Riff (the slender Mike Faist), the type of fighter who would rather fight than win.

As the song says: “Life can be brilliant in America / If you can fight in America.” But what lingers after this “West Side Story” is a darkness that seems to belong more to our own angry tribal moment than to the (relatively) optimistic 1950s or early 1960s. Anguish lands so hard because eruptions of joy are so intoxicating. The great comic and romantic numbers – “Tonight”, “America” ​​and, yes, “I Feel Pretty” – are bursting with color and feeling, and the silliness of “Officer Krupke” cuts short as an insider satire on some of the liberals. declared of the program. pieties.

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