"KEEP BUSTIN'."

West Side Story

WEST SIDE STORY – it’s very clear when you see it – is a film by Steven Fucking Spielberg. That’s why I saw it. Usually when I write about a remake of a beloved classic I like to be somewhat knowledgeable about the source material, but this late in the game you’ve had plenty of time to read reviews from people who know the musical or the earlier Robert Wise movie forward and backward, can tell you all the things that Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (MUNICH, LINCOLN) added, cut, updated, etc., and the significance of those alterations. Or at least from someone who has seen the original. I have not. I would’ve, but Spielberg didn’t direct it.

I don’t really gravitate toward Broadway musical type stuff, but I do have a thing for great filmatism, so this thing knocked me out. As even I kind of knew, it’s the story of two gangs, the Jets (white guys) and the Sharks (proud Puerto Ricans) stubbornly fighting over territory in a dilapidated Manhattan slum that (this part is new, I believe) is on the verge of redevelopment. In the opening, Janusz Kaminski (COOL AS ICE)’s camera hovers over what remains of the neighborhood, climbs up the side of a structure under construction, past a billboard advertising the fancy apartment building and entertainment center it will become (featuring the sort of upper class white people who will inhabit it), then hangs out a while next to the wrecking ball waiting to get the process started. Meanwhile, the percussion section (David Newman [CRITTERS, ROVER DANGERFIELD, CONEHEADS, THE SPIRIT] arranging Leonard Bernstein’s music) playfully percolates like the build up to a heist sequence.

The Jets, led by weasely-voiced Riff (Mike Faist, WILDLING), emerge from a maintenance tunnel carrying paint buckets, marching through town to deface a weathered mural of the flag of Puerto Rico, instantly sparking a brawl with the locals that ends with one guy with a nail through his ear and the two sides split up and lectured by Lieutenant Schrank (Corey Stoll, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN), who knows them all by name.

There’s a telling detail here: Schrank makes the Puerto Ricans leave and then addresses the white people as “us” and “we.” Riff points out that he’s full of shit, because he first blamed the relocation on the city, then on Puerto Ricans. But that doesn’t change the fact that this cop is going to treat these people different because of their race. Whether or not the Jets are racist themselves, they can benefit from this racism – that’s how it works. I think Schrank’s argument for not being racist would be that he’s actually classist – he demeans the Jets and their parents for not being able to get out of the neighborhood. Of course, the reason he thinks they should’ve left the neighborhood was to get away from Puerto Ricans. So he’s both classist and racist. Like many people.

It’s a while before we meet Tony (Ansel Elgort, Tommy from the 2013 CARRIE remake), Riff’s best friend who has retired from the Jets after doing some time for almost killing a kid in a brawl (see also: Dominic Toretto). He works at a little store for a nice Puerto Rican boss named Valentina (Rita Moreno, MARLOWE) and tries to stay out of all the stupid bullshit he used to get himself involved in. But somehow Riff convinces him to break his parole to go to a dance where the Jets are gonna challenge the Sharks to rumble at a later date.

That’s where the love story begins, when Tony spots Maria (Rachel Zegler) across the dance floor, they have a conversation under the bleachers, sparks fly, and gang tensions intensify. Maria is the younger sister of Bernardo (David Alvarez), leader of the Sharks, who objects to her 1) being interested in a white boy 1b) especially one he considers a Jet and 2) rejecting his dorky friend Chino (Josh Andres Rivera) who she came to the dance with. Meanwhile, Riff feels betrayed that Tony is more concerned with a girl than the sacred honor of the Jets or whatever. And both Tony and Maria (who just met like four minutes ago, for christ’s sake, just cool down everybody) want the freedom to talk and dance with whoever they want without this pressure from their dipshit friends and relatives who should be minding their own fucking business. (They really should’ve added a new song called “Mind Your Own Fucking Business” for best original song contention.)

The story is inspired by Romeo and Juliet (a famous play from olden times according to my research) so it doesn’t matter how well they know each other, just that the squelching of their burning youthful passion by ignorant meddlers will have tragic consequences. A fire escape outside Maria’s bedroom window serves as the balcony where Tony tracks her down later that night and gets her to agree to a date. One advantage he has over Romeo is he can climb the fire escapes all the way up and have a romantic moment separated only by iron bars. This would’ve been a good opportunity for some cool parkour, but it actually looks pretty dangerous as is.

Tony tries to stay above all the nonsense and just do his thing, but his admirable plan of going to the rumble to talk things out with Bernardo backfires. We see how the very presence of weapons (first knives, then a gun) escalates things and makes tragedy inevitable. Each act of understandable anger leads to worse violence. You get why Tony stabs Bernardo after Bernardo stabs Riff. You get why Chino takes Riff’s gun after Tony stabs Bernardo and looks for Tony. Even the non-violent act of Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita spitefully lying about Maria being dead to get back at Tony leads to more violence.

Anita is one of the best characters – Moreno won an Oscar in that role in the Wise version, and Ariana DeBose (THE PROM) has been deservingly nominated for this one. She pushes back on Bernardo’s macho attitudes, advocates for Maria, and talks (well, sings and dances) with her friends about how much she loves living it up in New York and continental America, as opposed to his dream of making her return to Puerto Rico to have a bunch of kids. So it hurts so bad when she first loses Bernardo, then sees Maria hiding his killer in their own apartment. That snuffs out all the light that was in her before and she seems to shift to a more Bernardo-like attitude. Which makes me wonder if Bernardo was once idealistic too and something like this happened to him.

I have the advantage of all the context and everything so I get that Tony is not a total monster. Still, that “I Have Love” has gotta be one hell of a persuasive song to make Anita accept (if not approve of) Maria loving Tony and running away with him! Not that it fixes anything.

This is a sad story about how love doesn’t always conquer all. Not if enough of these stubborn, possessive, competitive dudes are around puffing their chests out at each other. I think the detail that the neighborhood is being redeveloped is brilliant not just because it shows these are victims of the same system fighting each other, but because it underlines the pointlessness of it all. They’re fighting over “territory” that very shortly will belong to rich people who will call security if they show up there. And there won’t be any rumbling at the salt shed to get out of that one. They all know this. And they know some of the other flaws of their attitudes – they discuss them – but they still can’t help getting wrapped up in the tribalism and letting things get out of control. It’s all so stupid, and so true. People really do that.

And I think it’s a good depiction of flawed people with points of view – you can usually understand where they’re all coming from, sometimes they have a point, sometimes they’re wrong, often they are bad for people they genuinely care about. Pretty dark for a movie that also makes you smile because everybody’s dancing all over the place.

I mean, it’s WEST SIDE STORY. Most people have an idea whether they consider that a good story or not. I thought it was a good story. But as predicted, it’s the Steven Spielbergness that makes it soar. This is one of our great directors operating at the height of his filmatistic powers. He always wanted to do a musical, and man did he do a musical. I like watching people who can dance, and in this movie the camera can also dance.

The whole school dance sequence is just astounding, the way the camera floats through this gymnasium between all the couples and factions, all these different characters moving in and out of the frame with their own things going on, so many story and character threads communicated clearly and succinctly through visuals and brief dialogue. It might sound pretentious to say that some of their agendas are illustrated through their differing dance styles, but it’s not some lofty metaphor that needs to be deciphered, it’s story points that are right there on the surface.

The last movie I said this about was DARK CITY, which would be a bizarre movie to compare this to, but I think this is another one that somebody could watch any time in the next couple decades and have a hard time guessing when it was made. Most of the cast are from Broadway (only three familiar faces in a giant cast, and one of those I wasn’t sure about) so they’re allowed to have very old timey looks. It’s shot on film and doesn’t have the digital sheen most of today’s movies have. The camera moves seem state of the art, but for the long take entering the gym they used a Spydercam, which (as discussed in the SPIDER-MAN 2 review) has existed since the ‘90s.

Still, you’d have to say that on a technical level it’s very modern. Maybe updating the themes a little and casting more actual Puerto Ricans would be a good enough reason to do a remake, but they did more than that. Still, it ends up feeling old fashioned in a positive way. You know that majestic feeling they’re trying to convey when they make those montages of highlights from golden age classics for the Oscars and THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT and shit? Well, that’s exactly the type of magic that WEST SIDE STORY is dripping all over the place – that quality of Hollywood’s greatest craftsmen pooling all their skills and resources to put on an awe inspiring show. I wasn’t even sure how they did it because it seems like this period neighborhood would have to be built on a giant soundstage in the old days, which means now you’d usually do it with a bunch of green screen, but it sure as hell looks like real daylight. (I’ve since read that they built the sets outdoors. I guess that’s obvious, but you don’t expect that these days.)

Anyway, I loved WEST SIDE STORY. I described my feelings about it pretty succinctly when I came out and said, “Steven Fucking Spielberg.” But another description comes from an actor who was discovered when Spielberg saw his short film Multi-Facial and put him in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Like WEST SIDE STORY, his latest movie was filmed before the pandemic and then delayed until after vaccines became available. And when he welcomed us back to theaters he really captured the feeling of watching WEST SIDE STORY by the way he intoned these two beautiful words:

 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2022 at 7:02 am and is filed under Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “West Side Story”

  1. West Side Story, the original, was one of my favorite movies growing up. My parents, who have both passed away in the last 4 years, loved movie musicals. They were always playing them in out house, most of which made me roll my eyes. But WSS was the only one I cared for. It is one of the few musicals that have songs that, for me, just thread the needle between being super campy and being music you would actually sit down and enjoy listening to. Watching this in the theater was an emotional experience.

    I guess it is blasphemy to say this remake is better than the original, but, well, it kinda is. It is a stunning looking movie, for starters. I cannot wait til it comes to streaming next month. I don’t know how many times I will watch it again, from start to finish, but I for sure will watch certain scenes over and over. The opening, the dance, Officer Krupke, America. So many great scenes that I am sure, while watching this in the theater, I didn’t appreciate how technically superb they were because I was too wrapped up in the music and the whole experience, in general.

    More blasphemy, I think the main leads are, to a person, certainly as good if not better than the original. If there is a weak link, it is probably Ansel Elgort’s Tony. I don’t think my view of AE’s performance is at all tainted by the fact that he is, apparently, a real shitty person. Truth be told, Richard Beymer isn’t exactly fantastic in the original either. Tony is a weird part, you have this guy who is supposed to be the toughest of tough guys, and he really isn’t, in either movie. It’s a role that doesn’t make a ton of sense. But then again, neither does guys dancing during a gang fight.

    Rachel Zegler is easily a better Maria than Natalie Wood. Mike Faist is great as Riff. Ariana DeBose probably has the toughest job, and I won’t go so far as saying she is better than Rita Moreno, but its close, and will probably win her an Oscar as well.

    But the thing that made me smile the most is Spielberg just directing like a savage. The BFG, The Post and Ready Player One were his last 3 movies and, emmmm, none were that great. This is elite level filmmaking. Get em Steve. Old guy still got it.

  2. The bit about the neighborhood on the verge of redevelopment is actually a pretty nifty in-joke from Spielberg and Kushner. For decades, I had always assumed that the 1961 movie was shot on some massive soundstage out in Hollywood. That film’s set is huge, and filled with lots of lived-in details, it really looks like an old NYC ghetto. A few years back I read about the production of the old movie, and I discovered how they were able to accomplish all this – turns out it really WAS shot in an old NYC ghetto, on the actual west side in which the story occurs. The big “slum clearance” project they’re talking about in this new movie really happened. A whole neighborhood was indeed emptied out in order to build Lincoln Center; however, after everyone was kicked out but before the wrecking balls showed up, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbbins and co moved in to shoot the ’61 movie among the old, now-empty buildings. Can’t get much more authentic than that!

    This is just one of many really pretty smart ways that the new film re-thinks the old one; I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Wise’s movie (it’s fine), but it really is worth checking out to compare with this one, as I think it chews up and spits out a lot of its motifs in surprising ways.

    I really dug this new one, probably my favorite Spielberg since MUNICH and WAR OF THE WORLDS. I wasn’t wild about his ’10s run of fantasy films alternating with historical dramas about institutional checks and balances, so if this is how he’s going to transition into Late Style Spielberg, I’m here for it.

  3. I still don’t know what the thinking behind READY PLAYER ONE was, but in recent years Spielberg has made films you didn’t know you wanted to see until you saw them (MUNICH, LINCOLN, THE POST), trading on his name I guess. I’ve not seen this yet, and I’d definitely put myself in the WEST SIDE STORY didn’t need a remake camp. But I’d also put myself in the Spielberg can do whatever he bloody well likes (as long as he doesn’t make Ready Player Two, obviously) camp as well. So I’m gonna put my trust in Vern and give this a whirl sometime soon.

    Robert Wise was a master craftsman working with equally skilled people on great source material, but while the audience for big musicals was probably larger then, he was also limited by the times. Spielberg is certainly the match of Wise for craft, but he is also the great popular film artist of our time, one of the greats of any time. Just look at that overhead shot with the shadows in Vern’s review!

  4. I went in really primed to at least like this — I love Spielberg, I was excited to see him tackle a full musical, I love the original but don’t think it can’t be improved — but was surprised to come out having not liked it much at all.

    I think for me the problem is the script. For every change I liked (the idea that these gangs are fighting over the future site of a Starbucks is great) there were too many that pushed the whole thing too far into utter joylessness. Tony is a walking red flag — not just an ex-con but one who beat a man almost to the point of death — portrayed by Elgort with the cold dead eyes of a psychopath, so from the jump I *don’t* want Maria to be with him, and that wrecks the dynamic of the entire story.

    In my own humble opinion, tragedies need life & joy throughout (like the “America” number — in the original it’s joyous, here it’s just energetic) in order for their endings to actually be sad. Without a glimmer of hope that things can work out, there’s nothing to root for. You’re supposed to want Romeo & Juliet to triumph, not want her to run for the hills because this guy is obviously going to destroy her life (which he immediately does). If there’s no hope then it’s just a repetitive, one-note slog through the story of a toxic relationship where an older thug takes advantage of a naive young girl.

    That’s not to say it was all bad. The staging of “Cool it, boy” is great. “Officer Krupke” is pretty good. But overall it’s too cynical and too flawed to work as a whole for me.

  5. Not surprised this didn’t catch on. This doesn’t seem like the right climate for people to appreciate a movie about how white racists and non-white racists are morally the same, and any contrivances to soften that central message seems destined to ruin the story. How can you do Romeo & Juliet where one side is morally superior? “You know who the real bad guy is? CAPITALISM” sounds condescending as hell.

    I also have misgivings of remaking a movie–well, for any reason, but particularly to make it less ‘problematic’/challenging, like that Straw Dogs reimagining that took out the wife enjoying being raped, because why should the audience ever be uncomfortable? It seems like one step up from colorizing black and white movies. Although West Side Story: Homecoming then itself becoming problematic by dint of its male lead being a misconductor is some Grade-A irony.

    It true they made all the Puerto Rican dialogue unsubtitled Spanish? Because that seems pretty pretentious for a musical.

  6. I guess in my opinion of this is they didn’t remake a movie, they’re doing another version of a play. Spielberg may be thinking of this as a movie remake and maybe it really is technically, but the source material makes it such that it’s not original to movies and was a huge hit on Broadway. We don’t think this way of classics, like we don’t call the new Macbeth a remake when Polanksi already made that movie, and how many times after and before?

  7. Oh yeah, Kaplan they did not sub the Spanish. Which is sort of weird but frankly I didn’t think anything of it at the time, you always got the gist of what they were talking about. I dn’t tend to recall there being a ton of it, and half the time someone is talking Spanish someone yells at them to speak English. Like I remember the scene they’re talking to Krupke in Spanish and it pisses him off, we don’t know exactly what they’re saying but neither does he so it worked.

  8. Casablanca was a play; I still don’t think another version of it would go over. It just seems a shame we’ve gotten to the point where even ‘real movies’ (or films, if you prefer) are reboots of IPs with brand recognition, whatever the justification.

  9. It’s a fair point, Kaplan, but a poor analogy. West Side Story was a popular play and remains a popular play and the 1961 movie was a pretty faithful adaptation. Casablanca was based on an *unproduced* play with a different name (Everybody Comes to Rick’s) and by all accounts, the resulting movie was only loosely based on it.

  10. I guess someday we can do an autopsy on why this movie tanked so badly at the box office. Was it the politics of it? Was it the lead having multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against him? I doubt both of those, but no real way to tell. Personally, I think it is tough to get people to go out and see musicals, at least ones that aren’t modern and don’t have singing koalas. The target audience for this movie skews older, I think. And I think older people were staying home more when this came out, at the height of Omicron. If they made an error, I think it was assuming that younger people who like more modern musicals (i.e. Hamilton) would give a shit about a remake of a 60 year old film.

    The 10 nominees for best picture grossed, US, less than 150,000,000 combined, and Dune is most of that. Yes, streaming contributed to that, but would Don’t Look Up and Power of the Dog broken $100,000 at the box office? I think everyone I know has seen both of those movies, but I doubt many of them would have bothered to go to a theater to see them. Again, this is a lot of “I think that”, and “I think this”, and none of us have anything to really base this on. The only movies that seem to have survived streaming/Covid are horror and comic book films.

    I think if West Side Story had gone straight to streaming, a LOT of people would have seen it and we would have a better feel of what worked and what didn’t in it. I literally don’t know a single person in my life who saw this in the theater other than my wife and I, and I made her go. Lots of critics, lots of podcasters, but no one I know personally.

    It will be interesting to see how many people talk about it when it goes to Disney + in a few weeks.

  11. I guess someday we can do an autopsy on why this movie tanked so badly at the box office. Was it the politics of it? Was it the lead having multiple accusations of sexual misconduct against him? I doubt both of those, but no real way to tell. Personally, I think it is tough to get people to go out and see musicals, at least ones that aren’t modern and don’t have singing koalas. The target audience for this movie skews older, I think. And I think older people were staying home more when this came out, at the height of Omicron. If they made an error, I think it was assuming that younger people who like more modern musicals (i.e. Hamilton) would give a shit about a remake of a 60 year old film.

    The 10 nominees for best picture grossed, US, less than 150,000,000 combined, and Dune is most of that. Yes, streaming contributed to that, but would Don’t Look Up and Power of the Dog broken $100,000 at the box office? I think everyone I know has seen both of those movies, but I doubt many of them would have bothered to go to a theater to see them. Again, this is a lot of “I think that”, and “I think this”, and none of us have anything to really base this on. The only movies that seem to have survived streaming/Covid are horror and comic book films.

    I think if West Side Story had gone straight to streaming, a LOT of people would have seen it and we would have a better feel of what worked and what didn’t in it. I literally don’t know a single person in my life who saw this in the theater other than my wife and I, and I made her go. Lots of critics, lots of podcasters, but no one I know personally.

    It will be interesting to see how many people talk about it when it goes to Disney + in a few weeks.

  12. To me the thing is that WEST SIDE STORY isn’t old so much as positively mouldy. That doesn’t refer to the age of it, so much as what an uninteresting part of the cultural furniture it’s been my whole life. The 1961 one is one of those movies that seemed to be on regular TV three times a year when I was growing up, and I think I was born being able to whistle (ok, hum) America and Somewhere. Doesn’t mean it’s not good, but trying to get me interested in it is a bit like trying to get your average indie vinyl store patron interested in a copy of EAGLES 1971-75. But then the audience this was going for are probably well over a decade younger than me and probably don’t have my knee-jerk prejudice against it, so my feelings might not be much insight.

  13. At least personally, I missed West Side in the theater because I went to see it the Wednesday before x-mas, only to discover it had been replaced by the terrible Matrix movie (which I had no idea was opening on a Wednesday, hence why I thought the showtimes I looked at the night before were still valid)

    What was that, a week and a half after it opened?

  14. Jeff – I agree, it’s that it’s a musical that came out during a pandemic. I *am* going to theaters and was very interested but still took this long to get to it while I kept seeing all the bigger releases. So I’m not surprised. I don’t think we have to worry about it losing money – it’s not like it will slow Spielberg’s career down. But it’s too bad more people aren’t getting to enjoy it on the big screen.

  15. I think the autopsy is pretty simple: people didn’t care. And honestly, why should they? It’s a remake of (as Pacman2.0 points out) a moldy oldie. The main thing that got me into the theater was “Spielberg doing a musical,” and that’s not gonna be a huge selling point for a mass audience. Honestly, it’s a weird choice on Spielberg’s part from a ‘let’s make a movie that turns a profit’ standpoint — it only makes sense from a standpoint of ‘I want to make a musical, what’s the best musical IP I can get my hands on?’ (And more power to him for that.)

    But I also can’t help that audience apathy to the concept wasn’t helped by word of mouth either. Anecdotally: the only other person in my friend circle who saw it is an enormous West Side Story fan and, like me, a Spielberg fan, and his one-word description of it was “terrible.” I’m not claiming he speaks for all the people, but between his feedback and the lack of a clear selling point, I’m not really surprised about the lack of box office.

  16. *also can’t help think that*

  17. Daniel, I thought word of mouth on it was pretty stellar, which probably was a lot of the reason I didn’t just wait for it to hit streaming. I hate relying too much on RT but it’s 93% and 94% viewer score. I had kind of a “why do this, exactly?” feeling in the 8 years or whatever it took to finally come out, but the reviews and word of mouth via podcasts was what got me to go.
    That being said, definitely seems like it was a vanity project. I’m sure they got offered money to send it straight to streaming but said “we want people to experience it in theaters” and just bit the financial bullet

  18. I didn’t know that about the scores being so high! That’s interesting. Assumption corrected.

  19. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    February 16th, 2022 at 10:10 pm

    Not subtitling the Spanish was an incredible and brave decision from Spielberg. Have any of you ever resided in a non-English speaking country? People have whole conversations and you must get the gist of it from non-lingual cues, or what you can pick up from the language if you listen closely. This movie forces you to do that. An intercultural experience all of its own.

    Whenever it was I first saw NIGHT ON EARTH the Japanese tourists were not subtitled. I don’t know why I bring that up except that it is an example of an American movie that forces Americans to confront the reality that English isn’t the only language.

  20. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    February 16th, 2022 at 10:13 pm

    Oops I meat MYSTERY TRAIN.

  21. I agree, it really works in the movie and seems so natural and not a big deal that I didn’t mention it in the review.

  22. This, for me, was THE movie of 2021. A seemingly needless remake of an already great film that improves and enriches its predecessor. Saw it twice in the theater, cried both times, will probably see it a third. Just magnificent cinema.

    As for why it flopped, besides just the pandemic softening the box office all around outside of teen-aimed tentpoles, I think there has to be a real acknowledgement of how Disney (or, if you like, the gutted carcass Disney has left of Fox) botched the marketing and release.

    To start with, while the trailers were solid as teasers, none of them ever actually functioned as *trailers* – which is to say, none of them actually told you about the story, or the characters, or even gave you a real sense of what the songs were like. Some great imagery, and the quiet bit of one of the bit songs, but that’s about it. Again, for teasers, that’s fine. But plenty of people aren’t familiar with the original and wouldn’t know what the story is about. And this isn’t a musical where the story is just a clothesline to hang the musical numbers on – it’s a great story! Romeo and Juliet in an NYC gang war! But also, you didn’t really get a sense of how colorful and full of life so many of the numbers are – why not have 20-30 seconds of America, or the gym dance?

    But okay, you still had decent teasers. They then made the decision not to give this a platform release – releasing it in a few theaters first, and spreading it over time as word of mouth and buzz spread. That’s normally how you would release this kind of film that’s inherently not going to get a huge opening weekend. (Even in pre-pandemic times, outside of Disney cartoons or remakes of the same, musicals really don’t get opening weekends above $25-$30 million in the best of circumstances.)

    And if you are going to just open wide, probably not a great idea to open one week before what’s obviously going to be the big kahuna of the season. Yes, Spiderman overperformed, but it was still Spiderman with nostalgia bait – it was obviously going to be a big deal. Counterprograming against Spiderman has resulted in the competition getting crushed every single time. (Except INTO THE SPIDERVERSE, but that’s a weirdo exception.)

    But if you do decide one week before Spiderman is the time to open the movie (and it is the Christmas season and will skew somewhat older and more female than Spiderman, though nowhere near as much as against any other superhero), and aren’t going to platform it at Thanksgiving to build buzz for it, the strategy could still work – if your marketing is going to be built around the film’s legs, and even if you write off weekend 2, you could pump the ads in through Christmas week and into January and February, keep the buzz going and give the word of mouth an extra punch. I mean, think back a couple of years to, say, 1917 or Little Women, which opened in December but were still being widely and strongly marketed all the way through January and February.

    But West Side Story? The second it came out, the marketing disappeared. You didn’t get weeks of high-profile interviews, or ads during Christmas break – the ads absolutely evaporated.

    And the final thing you could do to market it would be to expand the number of theaters it was in after the Oscar nominations were announced – as, this last weekend, BELFAST an LICORICE PIZZA did. West Side Story lost half its theaters right after the Oscars.

    This was a failure of marketing all the way through. How much is incompetence and how much is just not caring to market something that isn’t your main franchise stuff is hared to say (and, notably, since Disney bought out 20th Century Fox, EVERY Fox movie except Ford v Ferrari and Free Guy have flopped). In my opinion, Disney didn’t want to work to make this film find and nurture its audience. I think they would have taken a hit if it had been handed to them, but they weren’t going to raise a finger for it, because they want an excuse to fully shutter Fox for anything other than their Marvel properties. But maybe they just don’t know how to market anything anymore that isn’t the MCU or standard DISNEY.

    I’m not saying this would have been a blockbuster with a competent and marginally committed strategy — but it sure as hell wouldn’t have topped out at $37 million.

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