My little cousin put it on because she felt she needed to understand “the references”. If the rest of family hadn’t been intent on watching the whole thing I don’t think I would have gotten through it. My aunt even said out loud, “I hate this movie.” I’d only ever seen a few scenes here and there on TV, but after sitting through the whole screeching train wreck I gotta say I agree.
West Side Story is a hateful piece, and it isn’t improved in the slightest by the fact that anyone familiar with Romeo and Juliette, which by my count is the entire English speaking world, will know the whole story already. Two people fall in love and then a bunch of terrible things happen. But it gets even more specific because we know who’s gonna die. The only surprise, for me, was that Maria lived to the end. But I guess her suicide in the middle of the basketball court would have been a little too macabre, even for this tasteless elegy of heartrending urban strife.
The whole musical is populated primarily by maddeningly stupid idiots whose only redemption is their ability to dance. The Sharks and the Jets are rival gangs in the upper west side, but they seem more like a bunch of yammering basket cases. Everything is said and done with a maximum of mania. I kept thinking they would all benefit by smoking a little pot and going for a hike in the woods. Or maybe they could take up martial arts to get their angst out. I dunno.
Instead they just throw racist slurs at each other and get in fist fights. By the middle of the opening number where they all walk around the ‘hood snapping their fingers I was already bored. I’m mean, the dance fighting is cool but everything else is not.
The most interesting thing to happen actually didn’t happen in the movie. There’s a scene when Tony and Maria, our star crossed lovers, are discussing the difficult task of breaking the news of their interracial romance to their parents. While watching this scene my grandmother, who is of Japanese descent, mentioned that her parents were extremely opposed to her marrying my grandfather, who was a white guy, and it wasn’t for the reason you might think. At the time of my grandparent’s engagement there were a lot of American soldiers returning from World War II with Japanese wives who were so desperate to get away from Japan they’d marry a stranger. My grandmother on the other hand was born here in the USA and her parents (my great-grandparents) didn’t want anyone mistaking my grandmother for one of these less scrupled individuals. Lucky for me, grandma and grandpa got married anyway.
So… what was I talking about? Oh right, West Side Story. It features some neat dance numbers and extremely iconic songs, but the actual content of the story is so full of hate and violence that even the pretty bits feel ugly.
It’s also got some whopping plot holes. Like, for instance, maybe I’m asking too much but I’d like to think that my sister would be a little hesitant to shack up with anyone who stabbed her only brother (me, Aidan) to death. Seriously. Tony stabs Maria’s brother. Clara, if you’re reading this. I don’t care if they say it was an “accident”. Please, dump my murderer.
Also any story that revolves around the conceit of ‘miscommunication’ as a plot device just feels lazy to me now, what with the advent of cellphones. I mean, why would Maria send someone who hates Tony to deliver a message to him?
And when Anita does go in search of Tony she is rudely– no, more than ‘rudely’– she’s treated in the most foul possible manner by the remnants of the Jets gang. They behave as animals. It was somewhere in this scene, when their manic racist sexist attack on Anita had reached a crescendo, that I realized that there really wasn’t a likable character in the whole film.
I guess my grandmother’s story about her parents shows that interracial marriages can be tough to navigate. But if you want to watch a movie about racism I think you’ll be able to do better than West Side Story, even if this unfortunate flick did win ten Oscars.