There are different opinions on the film West Side Story, ranging from the opinions that it's really a great flick (which it is!), to the opinions that it's too sanitized, too formulated, too mawkish and maudlin, too unrealistic, and, for some people who either work in (i. e. people in the helping professions, such as mental health counselors, social workers, etc.), and/or reside in low-income areas where gang activity, crime and racial/ethnic tensions either are, or have been a problem.), West Side Story, either on film or on stage, hits too close to home.
Some people, on the other hand, have the opinion that West Side Story was primarily made for middle and upper-class whites who reside in the suburbs and wish to feel that they're involved being multi-cultural.
Yet, I've also found that there are plenty of people, both white and non-white, who reside in both the city and the suburbs, also like West Side Story as a film a great deal, as well.
As I've pointed out on a number of posts of mine, I'm a devout fan of the film West Side Story. It's my all time favorite film, hands down, and I rarely miss a screening of it, either in one of the two independent, non-profit repertory movie theatres in my area, or ana airing on the TCM (Turner Classic Movie) Channel, on TV.
West Side Story also harkens back to a more exuberant, and more hopeful time, when almost anything was considered possible. Hollywood's creativity had really begun to approach its peak, and, like many other films made during that general period, the movie West Side Story is long on both style and substance, a quality that is sorely lacking in many, if not most of today's movies. Unlike many, if not most of today's movies, West Side Story has a real story behind it, which, while fiction, is based on certain realities: i. e. urban gang warfare, racial/ethnic tensions, and people crossing over the racial/ethnic barriers to date, fall in love, and even marry. So what if the story behind West Side Story is based on the famous Shakespeare play, Romeo & Juliet? It makes no difference to me!
I know that in real life gangs don't go dancing through the city streets, but the other above-mentioned things do happen. Some people claim that it's a modern-day or a hip version of Romeo & Juliet. I'm not so sure that I'd call it that, but it's to each their own. While there are definitely similarities between West Side Story and Romeo & Juliet, there are some important differences, as well. The fact that Riff, Tony and Bernardo go down for the final count, but that Maria, as well as most of the other Jets and Sharks survive in the end, is a very important difference, not to mention the fact that West Side Story, unlike Romeo & Juliet, takes place here on United States soil, in the slums of 1950's-1960'sNew York City's Upper West Side.
Some people consider West Side Story an actual re-make of Romeo and Juliet, but I, personally, would not go so far as to call it that. Saying that one is based on the other is sufficient. A re-make of the film West Side Story, as I've pointed out, would invariably result in one of two things:
a) A junkier version of the original film
b) A more hip-hop, rap-filled, meth-filled movie-musical with the Bloods and a Latin version of the Crips in conflict, with both gangs shooting at each other, rather than using switch-blade knives and/or fisticuffs.
Neither of these versions would make any sense, because all the beauty of West Side Story, in either instance, would totally be taken out of it. West Side Story is a good, old-fashioned, old-style movie (Note that I'm saying this in a positive, and not a negative way!) that carries a great (albeit a somewhat double-edged) message: That racial, ethnic and cultural hatreds get people nowhere, and all too often result in gratuitous violence, or worse, even murder, but that intergroup reconciliation, as difficult as it can be, and often enough is, still has the possibility of occurring. Moreover, in West Side Story, there's a strong message that people must be held accountable for their actions and behaviors, and that people's actions clearly have consequences.
Equally important is the way in which the story behind West Side Story is told, not only through dance and music, but, in the film version, the fact that it's such a theatrical work of art.
Together, all of the factors above combined make West Side Story the dynamic keeper of a classic film that it is, which is one great reason that it is meant to be viewed on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre, with the lights down low, and sharing the experience with a whole bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not. West Side Story is wholesomely old-fashioned and old-styled, and it's a film that I personally, would never, ever want to be any other way.
Introducing this great golden oldie-but-keeper of a classic film to today's younger generation(s) would be the best way to get to know West Side Story and other great classic films, and to possibly help unite the older generations and the younger generations together.