West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

Congrats Puerto Rico

The essence of any real democracy is that the voice and the vote of the average person on the street is just as important as the voice and the vote of the politician or the member of the 1%.

Puerto Rico has been through a lot in the last few years. But this week, the people who call this island home proved that democracy works. Ricardo Rosselló finally agreed to step down after nearly 1000 pages of texts containing homophobic, misogynistic and profanity laden conversations were leaked to the public.

As I see it, this is a sign of hope. Democracy still exists in this world. The average citizen still has a voice and is not afraid to use it, especially when they disagree with those who they hired (i.e. elected) to run the country.

I hope that same voice comes through next fall and kicks you know who out of office.

Congrats to the people of Puerto Rico. May they inspire all of us to fight for our rights and speak up when we know that our political leaders are not doing what they should be doing.

Why Are We Not Talking About Puerto Rico?

America has been hit by three hurricanes in a very short amount of time: Irma, Harvey and Maria.

Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico, leaving millions of American citizens without the basic necessities. While another President would focus his or her energy to getting aid and supplies to those who are in need, President Trump decided to focus on one thing: the NFL players who protested injustice by taking a knee, locking arms or simply not being on the field while the Star Spangled Banner was sung at the beginning of the game.

The rules of American democracy can be boiled down to one simple statement: I may not agree with you, but I will support your right to speak.

President Trump has forgotten this. He has also forgotten that he is no longer the owner of a private corporation who, as long as he stays within the legal and moral boundaries, can run his company as he likes. He is now a public servant, beholden to the citizens of this country. We are his employers, he is our employee. 

I support those who chose to take a knee in silent protest. My heart also goes out to those who are trying to put their lives back together in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas. We need to focus on helping our fellow citizens, not tearing them down.

Are you listening President Trump?

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