Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.



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West Side Story

Film #199


Musical about two youngsters from rival NYC gangs who fall in love.

Year 1, Day 196

BEFORE: In what’s surely a test of my will, I continue with another musical, the nominee of eleven Academy Awards and winner of ten of those including the all-important Best Picture, West Side Story.

AFTER: This movie marathon is no stranger to musicals, and while there is occasionally an exception, my reviews are often scathing rants of anger and hatred. While I feel the same way about West Side Story, I think I have finally nailed why exactly I hate musicals so much.

Before I begin my rant however, I would like to start off with some good. The defining characteristic of a musical is that the characters sing songs during the movie. What surprised me is that I actually enjoyed many of the songs. Like with Grease I think the reason for this is because many of the songs in West Side Story have become part of popular culture. Songs like “Maria”, “I Feel Pretty”, or “Somewhere” can be heard referenced in many films and having heard these songs many times, I have a wider context in which to judge them on as opposed to the context of just West Side Story.

Now that I just said why I like the music, why do I hate the musical so much? Let me begin by defending it some more. I am thoroughly impressed by the talent of these actors who can both sing and dance to large and complex choreography. I don’t think anyone, myself included, could deny that the dance numbers look impressive due to the synchronization alone. But this reason is the exact same one I hate musicals on film. In my opinion a musical (or even dramatic plays) should be reserved for the stage. Theater and film are two completely different mediums each with their own means of entertainment and acting styles and when I see something like West Side Story (which was based off a 1957 Broadway play) on film I cringe. I just don’t get how people like seeing large groups of people randomly break out into song, most times for no apparent reason, and also be dancing around the middle of the street with no reaction from onlookers. Things like these actually happen nowadays - they’re called flash-mobs. But even then, spectators take out their phones to record the performance and it’s quite clear that this was planned out and rehearsed. When characters break out into song and dance on film it looks forced, unnatural, and every time I find myself saying the same thing, “I don’t like it.” And my revelation, which I mentioned at the beginning, is that it’s not the song and dance I dislike, it’s that I think it should be reserved for the stage where “random” outbursts of choreographed entertainment is normal. To reiterate, it’s not just musicals either. Anytime any play (dramatic, musical, or otherwise) is just ported over without being adapted for the film medium in anyway, it suffers because, for me anyway, there’s a disconnect between two unique and very distinct styles.

West Side Story, despite some great songs, is yet another disappointment for me. You might be wondering, and I’ve asked myself this question many times, why do I keep on watching musicals if I’m pre-inclined to hate them? Maybe it’s because I’m optimistic. Maybe it’s because I think if I watch enough I learn to appreciate and enjoy them, or some of them at least. Regardless of the reason, I think it’s always important to give a film a chance, even bad films or films you think you’ll hate, because it gives you a chance to hone in on why you feel that way. Or, if you’re lucky, you may end up enjoying it.

RATING: 2 out of 5