West Side Story Parent Guide
Made in 1961, some of the artistic interpretation may appear dated. However, if you can put aside contemporary society's taste for gritty realism, you will find a story that transcends time.
Parent Movie Review
Life is tough on the streets of New York City’s west side. Crowded with immigrants, the youthful residents believe survival in the concrete jungle means joining up with your own kind and staking a claim for your own piece of pavement. At present, two groups are vying for "King of the Heap" status: the Jets, primarily made up of Caucasian males, and the Sharks, encompassing the Puerto Rican community.
Itchin’ for action, the high flying Jets commander Riff (Russ Tamblyn) decides to challenge the Sharks’ big fish Bernardo (George Chakiris) to a rumble. To increase his winning odds, Riff tries to enlist the support of Tony (Richard Beymer), the gang’s former leader. Newly employed at Doc’s Store, Tony seems to have lost interest in street-corner skirmishes, and is looking for a better "something, somewhere." The only commitment Riff can get out of him is a promise to attend the dance where the ultimatum is to be made.
Meanwhile, in the Spanish speaking camp, Bernardo set out for the dance with plans to introduce his recently arrived sister Maria (Natalie Wood) to her new American home. But his social agenda is quickly discarded as the plans for a war council take priority. While the protective older brother is distracted, Maria happens to catch sight of the man of her dreams. And he seems to think she might be that special something he’s been looking for too. Oblivious to the obvious objections, Maria and Tony fall in love.
Winner of ten Academy Awards, West Side Story is one of the motion picture industry’s greatest triumphs. Adapted from the Broadway musical, the film brings both drama and dancing to the big screen, and boasts a musical score that will be familiar to most viewers.
Although it contains a few mild profanities, some slightly sensual dancing and the implied sexual relationship of an unmarried couple, parents’ biggest concerns will be the depiction of violence. Along with the expected intimidating, wrestling and insult slinging that generally accompany bullying, the movie also includes scenes of stabbings and shootings. Thanks to the highly stylized nature of the choreographed fight sequences and the movie’s propensity to break into song, much of this tension is defused. (It is really hard to take a hoodlum seriously while he is executing ballet-like modern dance steps.)
Made in 1961, some of the artistic interpretation may appear dated. However, if you can put aside contemporary society’s taste for gritty realism, you will find a story that transcends time. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (right down to the balcony scene which, in this case, takes place on fire escape ladders), this modernized version of the star-crossed lovers replaces feuding families with rival gangs. And just as in the Bard’s day, the consequences for hate and prejudice are always tragic.Directed by Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise. Starring Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer. Running time: 152 minutes. Theatrical release December 23, 1961. Updated July 17, 2017
West Side Story
Rating & Content Info
Why is West Side Story rated Not Rated? West Side Story is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
A young couple falls in love despite the fact they have ties to opposing gangs who are fighting for the same piece of New York’s west side. This modernized (and musical) version of Romeo and Juliet won numerous awards.
Gang violence including bulling, intimidation, verbal threats, and racial prejudice is depicted throughout film. Fighting sequences are highly choreographed with wrestling, hitting, punching, kicking, rock throwing and spitting. Police officers misuse their authority. Gang members mock and show little respect for the law. The use of weapons is discussed at a war council. Young men carry tools and other objects to be used as weapons. During a rumble, knives are pulled—injury and deaths from stabbing result (no blood is shown.) Distracted character narrowly escapes being hit by a car. A group of young men harass a woman. A character slaps another out of frustration. A character threatens others with a gun and one character is shot.
Sexual Content: B-
References to infidelity or prostitution are used as insults. A young woman wants to lower the neckline of her party dress. Some female characters wear 1950’s style tight-fitting, low-cut dresses, one is shown dresses in a slip and another shows a lot of leg while putting on nylons. Couples are shown dancing very closely, kissing and necking. Dance numbers include some mild sensuality. A sexual relationship between an unmarried couple is implied. Man’s bare chest is shown. A group of young men who are harassing a young woman appear to have some sexual motives (they are stopped before they can carry them out.)
At least: 7 mild profanities and numerous instances of name-calling.
Alcohol / Drug Use: C+
Main and secondary characters are shown smoking cigarettes. Comments about drug and alcohol abuse are used as insults or mentioned in the lyrics of some songs.
Gang members discuss the positive merits of belonging to a gang (although the negative realities are shown.) Racial prejudice and chauvinism towards women are portrayed. A character prays on two occasions.
Page last updated July 17, 2017
More parents' guide for West Side Story after the break...
West Side Story Parents' Guide
The Puerto Ricans quip, “Life is alright in America, if you’re all white in America.” Why do you think they feel this way? Can anything be done to change racial prejudice?
In the lyrics of a song, Maria defends her feelings for Tony by claiming, “When love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong.” Do you agree that logic cannot govern the affairs of the heart? Some of the gang members use a similar argument to justify their hate. What price did they pay for this excuse?
The most recent home video release of West Side Story movie is November 15, 2011. Here are some details…
Home Video Notes: West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: 15 November 2011
On November 15, 2011, West Side Story releases as a 50th Anniversary Edition. This 2-disc Blu-ray set includes:
- Pow! The Dances of West Side Story cast members, contemporary filmmakers, dancers and choreographers analyze and illuminate the films famous dance sequences (Prologue, Dance At the Gym, Tony and Marias Cha Cha, America, The Rumble, Marias Roof Dance and Cool).
- A Place for Us: West Side Storys Legacy a look back at the iconic film’s impact (Creation and Innovation, and A Timeless Vision).
- Song Specific Commentary by Lyricist Stephen Sondheim (for Prologue, The Jet Song, Somethings Coming, Dance At the Gym, Maria, America, Tonight, Gee Officer Krupke
I Feel Pretty, One Hand - One Heart, Quintet, Somewhere, Cool and A Boy Like That / I Have A Love).
- Music Machine navigate straight to specific musical numbers.
- West Side Memories
- Storyboard to Film Comparison Montage
- Trailers (Original Theatrical Trailer, Original Issue Trailer, Reissue Trailer and Animated Trailer)
A Limited Edition Collector’s Set for the West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition is also available. It offers:
- Two-Disc Blu-ray
- Newly-Restored DVD
- Tribute CD
- Photo Book and Other Collectibles