Spielberg’s version is nine minutes shorter, while the new version is 20 minutes longer. The title will remain. It’s called, simply, West Side Story.
If there is an enduring message here, it is this: We are all born with flaws, and it is up to us to make them the best they can be.
You know that old saying: “An onion contains enough light to reach the other side”? Spielberg’s got a nice little bright spot in the middle of the jade, called Maria.
Those three little “bones” of Noah Oppenheim’s script — code names for actresses Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Chastain and the new version’s Lauren Bacall — are meant to communicate a vast chasm of difference and comparison. Oppenheim fleshes out the turf of each side’s culture by interviewing people from each world. On the men’s side, there’s a Puerto Rican cop and a Puerto Rican boxer. On the women’s side, there’s a Russian nurse and a Cuban ballerina.
For all the basis it has, West Side Story will never quite gel. It’s repetitive and static, as though the lines are holding a mutual aspirational gaze. There are always wan moments of score and visual dazzle, as if to convey the desperation and longing on both sides.
The main problem with the original, as anyone who has seen it knows, is that it tries so hard to craft a realistic portrayal of young conflict on the Bronx street corners that it falls back on clichés and clichés of fresh, plastic cultural collision.
The poet Philip Larkin said: “Social reality is suspended in the warm amber of fiction.” You could say that about West Side Story.
If you like your sense of fantasy sharpened by artistry, you should get the original.
If you prefer your movie images fascinatingly edited out of reality, go for Spielberg’s.