Tag Archives: Rita Moreno

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The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods.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.

8 Comments

Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Politics, William Shakespeare

Rita Moreno & Mental Health: A Revelation That Needs to be Heard

Rita Moreno is more than an icon. She is a trailblazer who opened the door for non-POC performers to not only have a career, but to play roles than were more than the servant or the background character. She also dealt with mental illness and lived to tell the tale.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It premiered a couple of weeks ago on the PBS series American Masters. The documentary follows her life and career from her early days playing “ethnic” characters to her current status as one of the most respected performers in Hollywood. Best known for her role as Anita in 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, it was one of the first (if not the first) fully fleshed out Latino characters on the big screen. Up until that point, Latinx performers either had to hide who they were (a la Rita Hayworth) or play a stereotypical characters ( e.g. Carmen Miranda).

While I was not surprised that she was sexually assaulted. Then, as now, women are still seen as sex objects to be used and thrown away when our usefulness outside of the bedroom has vanished. What I was surprised is that she has lived with mental health problems for decades and survived a suicide attempt. I found her honesty to be refreshing and comforting. It was as if she was saying “I did it, you can too”.

If I could, I would send an invite to watch this film to anyone whose life is complicated by mental illness. If it provides one person at least a brief respite from the mess in our heads and the push to ask for help, I would be satisfied.

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It is available for streaming on the PBS website.

7 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Mental Health, Movies, Television

Thoughts On the West Side Story Trailer

Among the thousands of stories that have been written throughout humanity’s history, there is a reason that some have come down through the generations while others have been forgotten. Romeo and Juliet is one of these tales.

On Sunday, the trailer for the West Side Story reboot was released.

I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but this trailer is just what I need to entice me to see the movie when it comes out in December. The colors are bright and inviting. Director Steven Spielberg was wise enough to honor the original 1961 film via some of the visual aspects and hire Rita Moreno, who played Anita. Moreno singing “Somewhere” in the trailer is the perfect link between both adaptations.

If nothing else, the release of West Side Story is timely. Given what is going on in our country and our world these days, we need a reminder that love is possible, if we are willing to do the work.

West Side Story will be in theaters December 10th, 2021.

2 Comments

Filed under Movies, New York City, Thoughts On....