Steven Spielberg’s transformation from a Boomer Peter Pan into a Boomer leftist curmudgeon was lubricated by a string of sonorously lifeless historical dramas that dissipated his talent for tapping into the childlike joy of his influences. It’s not a unique path. Quite a few other Boomer directors, artists, and writers had tapped into the pulpy pleasures of their childhood to make things that were fun, but the farthest thing from art, before deciding as they aged that it was time to be painfully serious and socially relevant.
West Side Story was Spielberg’s Icarus moment of wokeness. It was okay when he churned out revisionist history garbage like Bridge of Spies about events that 98% of Americans never heard of or had entirely forgotten about. Munich alienated Jews, but bothered few others.
Remaking West Side Story put Spielberg in the impossible Catch 22 act of trying to be woke, only to realize that an aging straight white male director can never be woke enough, especially when making a movie in which minorities play a significant part.
Despite West Side Story’s best efforts to be sensitive to transgenders, promote Puerto Rican nationalism, and offer up Marxist lectures on class and capitalism, it was never enough. In a cultural environment in which Lin Manuel Miranda and Rita Moreno were canceled over In The Heights, the odds of Spielberg, Tony Kushner, and West Side Story navigating the impossible demands of wokeness were zlich.
West Side Story bombing miserably (it’s down 65% in the previous weekend and is at about $18 million against a budget of over $100 million) is probably the best thing that could have happened to Stevie.
The movie got its share of brickbats, but not nearly as many as it would have gotten if it had been successful. As it was, most people and critics felt free to ignore its existence which saved Spielberg from the canceling he would have gotten if it had somehow become a hit.
Woke Side Story is a fiscal mess, but Disney has plenty of cash and Spielberg still has plenty of name recognition. Next up is The Fablemans, apparently a semi-autobiographical picture about what it was like growing up as a child before becoming a joyless leftist hack.