First West Side Story reactions laud 'top-tier Spielberg' film's 'breathtaking' Sondheim tribute
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.
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring Oscars analysis, exclusive interviews, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's movies and performances.