Following the film's premiere Monday night, journalists heaped on praise for the likely Oscar contender. EW's Leah Greenblatt admitted that, while "nobody needed to mess" with the story of the original Stephen Sondheim (who died Friday) and Leonard Bernstein stage production, Spielberg found a unique way into the story for contemporary audiences: "[It's] great looking & largely faithful to the text with a few smart respectful tweaks and a young cast I now want to see in everything," she tweeted after the screening.
Nobody needed to mess with #WestSideStory but Steven Spielberg went and did it and dammit it’s really good, great looking & largely faithful to the text with a few smart respectful tweaks and a young cast I now want to to see in everything
— Leah Greenblatt (@Leahbats) November 30, 2021
Spielberg's direction was further singled out by those in attendance, as critic Dan Murrell noted that he was "skeptical" of the filmmaker adapting the story, but felt the end result was "an often breathtaking staging of an all-time classic, respecting the original but also reinventing it" that registered as "one of 2021's best films." Slash Film's Chris Evangelista echoed the sentiment, calling it "top-tier Spielberg."
Just saw #WestSideStory - I was VERY skeptical of this movie. How could anyone, even Spielberg, approach the original’s greatness? I was wrong - it’s an often breathtaking staging of an all-time classic, respecting the original but also reinventing it. One of 2021’s best films. pic.twitter.com/7R0YWeePyt
— Dan Murrell (@MurrellDan) November 30, 2021
The film's cast — including returning legend Rita Moreno, who also starred in the 1961 film adaptation — received standout notices as well, with particular adoration going to newcomer Rachel Zegler in the role of María and Ariana DeBose as Anita.
"Rachel Zegler is about to be one of the biggest stars on the planet," tweeted Good Day Chicago's Jake Hamilton, while Vox's Alex Abad-Santos projected that DeBose "is going to get nominated for an Oscar" for her work.
West Side Story:
✅Ariana DeBose is going to get nominated for an Oscar
✅Rachel Zegler is buoyant
✅hot twinks and twunks
✅Ansel Elgort is the lead pic.twitter.com/pRAlOvSLyk
— alex (@alex_abads) November 30, 2021
Variety awards writer Jazz Tangcay singled out Moreno's take on the musical's "Somewhere" number as one of the film's most powerful moments, promising that watching the Academy Award winner belt the tune "will move you to tears."
If there was an Oscar for Best Choreography, West Side Story would be your frontrunner. But Rita Moreno's "Somewhere" will move you to tears. @RachelZegler's debut is stunning. What a voice and get ready for @ArianaDeBose to blow you away.
— Jazz Tangcay (@jazzt) November 30, 2021
Though universal praise went to Moreno, DeBose, and Zegler, the film's male lead, Ansel Elgort, wasn't as well received. One tweet called him the only "terrible" thing in an "extremely good" movie, and critic Robert Daniels summing up his performance with an "eh."
Niko Tavernise/20th Century Studios
Spielberg's Tony Kushner-penned adaptation marks the second time the stage production has been translated by Hollywood, with the 1961 version winning Best Picture at the 1962 Oscars. The film — a reimagining of Romeo and Juliet that also stars David Alvarez, Brian d'Arcy James, and Corey Stoll — follows teens Tony (Elgort) and María (Zegler) who, against the backdrop of 1950s New York City, fall in love despite their connections to the rival Jets and Sharks gangs.
Read on for more first reactions to Spielberg's West Side Story movie below, ahead of the film's Dec. 10 theatrical bow.
— Yolanda Machado (@SassyMamainLA) November 30, 2021
[Insert “Soprano? More like sopran-yes!” quip about Rachel Zegler in West Side Story here]
— Chancellor Agard (@chancelloragard) November 30, 2021
I will say this much: Spielberg is definitely gonna be one of the five for Best Director. Probably looking at the nominations leader.
— Sasha Stone / Awards Daily (@AwardsDaily) November 30, 2021
— Erik Anderson (@awards_watch) November 30, 2021
Went with this legend @RussTamblyn to the premiere of Spielberg’s West Side Story last night. It’s a wonderful and thoughtful remake and homage to the classic. We loved it. #WestSideStory #KrupYou pic.twitter.com/jYitl5RRgv
— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) November 30, 2021
Rita Moreno might be the first actor to win for a new role in a remake of the film that won her her first Oscar. West Side Story reminds you why she’s a legend.
— Jenelle Riley (@jenelleriley) November 30, 2021
I really liked Spielberg’s WEST SIDE STORY—and my God are Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, and Rita Moreno brilliant: each electric, funny, and heartbreaking in equal measure. And those songs are pretty good!
— David Canfield (@davidcanfield97) November 30, 2021
Been having a rather awful few days and I walked out of this like I was walking on air. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg.
— Chris Evangelista (@cevangelista413) November 30, 2021
After a concerningly slow start, West Side Story crescendoes into the movie musical I think people had the highest hopes for. Ariana DeBose is bonkers good, and Rita Moreno just might be in that Oscar race with her. I don't know how Rachel Zegler pulled off that good a debut.
— Kevin Fallon (@kpfallon) November 30, 2021
West Side Story: Spielberg has been rehearsing to make a musical for 50 years so it’s not like he was gonna mess up one of the greatest ever written, but some emotionally deadening choices sure were made in act 2. Young CGI Jeff Bridges is a good Tony & John Mulaney kills as Riff
— david ehrlich (@davidehrlich) November 30, 2021
mostly my thoughts about west side story are about adaptation and revival and i feel like kushner and spielberg got it right where ivo van hove did not
— Esther Zuckerman (@ezwrites) November 30, 2021
West Side Story is glorious. It is especially moving to see Sondheim’s career-making work showcase undoubtedly career-making performances by so many in the cast, particularly @rachelzegler and @ArianaDeBose. Their “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” is just thrilling.
— Ryan McPhee (@rdmcphee) November 30, 2021
So WEST SIDE STORY is my favorite Spielberg film in nearly 20 years. It is gorgeous filmmaking in every respect. @rachelzegler & @AnselElgort are amazing. The supporting cast is impeccable. And Rita Moreno made me cry. So yeah it’s a classic reborn as another classic.
— Josh Horowitz (@joshuahorowitz) November 30, 2021
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
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 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
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
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
#WestSideStory I was wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong to be skeptical. It was AMAZING.
— Joanna Robinson (@jowrotethis) November 30, 2021
Lots to love in Spielberg’s West Side Story, specifically the shot (during ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’) wherein the pulsating, tumescent neck artery on the most vascular Jet is so prominent, so lustfully engorged, I had to exhale and physically mop my brow
— adam (@adamjmoussa) November 30, 2021
my #WestSideStory review is simply: I can’t wait to see Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose’s careers explode after this. They knock it out of the park as Maria and Anita in this beautiful crafted movie pic.twitter.com/FZtlG8vABS
— Nora Dominick (@noradominick) November 30, 2021
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