Parents' Guide to

West Side Story (2021)

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Dazzling musical adaptation has violence, language.

Movie PG-13 2022 156 minutes
West Side Story (2021) Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 17 parent reviews

age 18+

Not appropriate for children… at all

This is an incredibly disturbing take on a classic that was ruined by Spielberg. I mean, if you like Temple of Doom blood splatter combined with singing and dancing, then great for you. Not appropriate for children in the slightest. For adults, if you want to spend nearly 3 hours of your life feeling horrible about the world, have at it. I can’t believe no one is mentioning this online at all, but that’s probably because not enough people are seeing this bomb!
age 13+

Be aware of the violence - realistic and intense.

This is my all-time favorite musical. Stephen Spielberg did it justice! Outstanding music, dancing, and acting. The set and the costumes are remarkable. It is definitely oscar worthy! What parents need to know is that the violence is worse than the three dot rating Common Sense gave it. This is primarily because it is so realistic. Common sense media also gives threes for cartoon violence, but because this is so realistic, I consider it much worse. It is really gross and could be disturbing to some to see the nail in someone's ear. The camera is on it for several minutes (lots of blood) and you see someone pull it out. You also witness two people being stabbed. It isn't hidden from the camera in any way. There is also very visual hitting in the face happening (one of the characters is a trained boxer and people really hammer into each other - and the folly artist earned their pay check for the sounds of someone getting punched repeatedly in the face). The use of pipes, chains, knives, and a gun is really tense and scary. An entire dance scene revolves around (no pun intended) Tony trying to get a gun away from Riff and I was holding my breath the whole time even though I knew it wasn't going to kill anyone (because I know the story). Still, it was hard to watch. Also, they drop the F bomb in a PG-13 movie. That surprised me. I did not let my 10 year old watch this only because my sister gave me a heads up about the violence, otherwise I might have because I remembered the original 1961 movie to be nothing close to this with the violence. Also, any stage production of the musical is not this violent either. The attempted rape scene is also hard to take - I couldn't watch. Having said all of that, everything else about the musical was just fantastic!!!!

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (17 ):
Kids say (56 ):

Spielberg's take on this legendary musical is gorgeously shot and brilliantly interpreted, with updates from the 1961 version to be more Latino (if not fully authentically Puerto Rican). The gifted cast is full of musical theater vets, including EGOT winner Rita Moreno as a new character, Valentina. The widow of the original musical/film's drugstore owner Doc, she runs the pharmacy and has taken Tony under her wing since he was released from prison on probation for nearly killing a rival gang member (both details are part of Kushner's substantial additions to the plot, deepening the characterizations). Kushner also adds dialogue between the supporting characters, beefs up the inclusion of Anybodys (Iris Menas) as transgender instead of "just" a tomboy, and tries to deliver the third-act sexual assault at Doc's in a way that forces the Jets to at least acknowledge their crime. The order of the musical numbers changes slightly for the better as well. The showstopper "America" is now set outside, in the Puerto Rican area of the community; "Somewhere" is sung by Valentina (rather than Maria and Tony); and "I Feel Pretty" takes place at the department store where Maria and her friends work the late shift as cleaners.

DeBose's Anita is particularly scene-stealing, with her strong personality, twirly dresses, and big sisterly attitude toward Maria. Faist's Riff is equally as impressive as both a dancer and singer. Zegler is excellent as Maria, who, while still young and naive, is also ambitious and dreams of a future full of opportunity and love. The only weak link in an otherwise perfectly cast film is Elgort; he's tall and handsome like Richard Beymer, but his voice, while better than expected, isn't nearly on the level of his co-stars. Of all the classic songs, the ones that stand out beyond "America" are the "Tonight" quintet; Anita and Maria's heartbreakingly beautiful duet "A Boy Like That/I Had a Love"; and the opening "Jet Song." Oscar-winning cinematographer and longtime Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski firmly roots viewers in the ruins of the New York City neighborhoods that were destroyed to make Lincoln Center. Several of the shots are dazzling, and Justin Peck's choreography pays tribute to Jerome Robbins' without copying it move-by-move. Ultimately, Spielberg's version of West Side Story addresses the whitewashed (or, in Moreno's case, brown-faced) wrongs of the 1961 version. It provides a deeper backstory for the main characters and highlights his ensemble's enormous talent -- but Puerto Rican viewers may still wish it had more authentically represented their culture.

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