Ballet has never been more appealing than in Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story. I tried to deny the immense awesomeness of the dancers, particularly the males, for as long as I could. Eventually my manly impulses failed me and in the end I proved Gloria Estefan right: the rhythm got me. Just grab me a white t-shirt and some tight mahogany corduroys and call me Sweetfeet, I’m ready for the gang life. It’s hard to avoid being totally encompassed by the world created by Wise and Robbins; it is a grand world were everyone drinks Coca-Cola from a glass bottle and gets away with saying kickass catchphrases like “Daddy-O” and “Whacko Jacko.” West Side Story is a film based off of the play of the same name, which was based off of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which we’re pretty sure he came up with on his own. Love and loss and immense unrelenting sappiness run rampant throughout the film, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The cast of West Side Story includes some of the most renowned actors, dancers, and performers of the time including Rita Moreno, Natalie Wood, and this fucker:
Richard Beymer plays Tony to Wood’s Maria. The rest of the principle cast consists of Russ Tamblyn as Riff, George Chakiris as Bernardo, and Moreno as Anita. Beymer plays Tony perfectly as a cheesy, pop-drinkin’ All-American. While Beymer has been cited as saying he hated his performance in this movie so much he left during the premiere, it’s hard to have beef with a mug like this.
Natalie Wood totally rocks the whole Puerto Rican thing; she’s sexy as hell and rolls her R’s better than Fez from That 70’s Show. The rest of the cast plays on the cheesiness of the film and uses it to their advantage. This film isn’t meant to evoke a discourse on the human condition, it’s fun and flamboyant, much like this fucker:
The aspect of the film which makes it a full-on spectacle is the choreography. From the first time Riff snaps his fingers to the ridiculously depressing ending, every single move the characters make was choreographed. The cast brilliantly displays the intricate choreography by Jerome Robbins as they spin around in the middle of the streets.The “America” scene has some of the best ensemble choreography captured on film. The scene at the school dance also has some amazing choreography, to go along with this fucker:
Who is this fucker I keep mentioning? That would be John Astin, perhaps best known as Gomez Addams from The Addams Family. His role in West Side Story is minimal, he plays Glad Hand, the teacher at the school dance who attempts to organize and keep calm as the rival students dance with each other, or at each other. He struggles to get his words out, he entertains the jests of his students, and he attempts to maintain decorum without losing his dignity. No matter what anyone says, I am convinced that his performance is the best in West Side Story. He literally plays his role perfectly; he does everything he was hired to do and he does it with flavor. For a role with so few lines, he leaves a great impression.
As tempted as I was not to give this film any more beers, I fear I have to for three reasons, reasons which equate to about a beer’s worth of problems.
Firstly, I cannot begin to express the long-lasting trust issues I’ve dealt with since learning Natalie Wood didn’t do her own singing. I felt betrayed by cinema, cast aside with the truth while this heinously misleading performance occurred before my eyes. As a kid, I always had a huge crush on Maria; she was hot, she could dance, she was an immigrant so our kids would have gotten into dope ass schools, and she could sing. I accepted the fact that Natalie Wood wasn’t an immigrant pretty easily after I figured out West Side Story was, in fact, a piece of fiction. Yet for some reason I can’t get over her voice being dubbed. Curse you, Natalie Wood. I’m glad Robert Wagner pushed you off that boat.
Secondly, the last quarter of the film (after the song “Cool”, where the Jets all break the fourth wall like badasses) is mostly a depressing mess of blood, tears, and semen. All the songs after this point are horrible sad and slow and it doesn’t make for a very good conclusion. And then there’s the non-sex scene between Tony and Maria which is implied but not really shown, to which I say, bitch, don’t kill my vibe.
And lastly, I can never look past the Puerto Rican couple that looks like it could be one person dating themselves. I mean, come on.
West Side Story is a lot of fun to watch, specifically the first three quarters. It’s a great way to escape from the world, and an even better way to waste a Saturday morning. Shouts out to Officer Krupke who I somehow didn’t mention at all.
Take a Drink: any time there’s a combination of snapping and walking/crouching/leaping/frolicking
Take a Drink: when Chino says “HE KILLED YOUR BROTHER” and practice your Puerto Rican accent
Take a Drink: for John Astin. God bless him
Take a Drink: any time Tony says “Maria” in any way that emphasizes he is a gringo/fruitcake
Take a Drink: any time one of the background Jets or Sharks has extended camera time i.e. at the end of the “Jet Song”