I wish I could have some interesting story of how now, shod of my goth boots, I could see the fun magic and unicorns of the story or something. Not so much. I still really dislike it. I really don't enjoy any of the songs, and find most of them sort of badly written and lazy lyrically. I think it's simply too long of a movie, and also pretty boring. I also just as a rule dislike musicals and musical theater, which makes this movie totally not my taste. I can understand why people like the movie, but personally, nothing about it works for me.
The film is about two rival gangs, The Jets and The Sharks. Maria and Tony, from each of these rival gangs, fall in love despite the conflict. Just like Romeo and Juliet! They try to stop the war between the gangs, but the violence and snapping continues to escalate until Maria's brother is killed by Tony (he actually ran into the knife). After that, as the guy who wrote the summary on IMDB says, "tragedy strikes and doesn't stop".
Ebert doesn't seem to in love with the movie, musing over the general public's and his own general un-enthusiasm for the film. He then goes to say that after revisiting it, he thinks it is "a great movie ... in parts." Hmmm. At least I don't feel too awful about not liking it. He does make a lot of compelling arguments for the film, though.
One of the things he mentions is that it's a musical that does not have a happy ending, which does indeed seem sort of rare. While I didn't care for the story, period, I can appreciate how different the story really is for a musical, especially in 1961. Usually musicals have a nice resolution, but this one really piles on the sadness, which is unique. I just wasn't so interested, I guess. The story overall was sort of boring for me personally, and so I wasn't affected by the ending or anything. I felt like the gangs were too goofy and tame, and they didn't seem believable at all, either. You know how you always hear that you can't ask audiences to suspend disbelief more than once in a film? The musical aspect is my suspension of disbelief (since the characters acknowledge the singing), so the gangs dressed in tight pants and grandpa sweaters is pushing it.
The main thing Ebert loves is the choreography, which I understand. He watched some sort of documentary on the dancing, and has a lot of information about why the dancing was so challenging and unique. Lots of it was shot in weird times and rhythms, and the moves themselves were really athletically challenging. I thought it was really interesting to read all of his information - if you would be interested in that, I highly recommend checking out his essay because it's packed with great stuff. I for sure appreciate the dancing more having read his essay. However, not enough to make me a convert. I'm not big into dancing, and while I can enjoy the difficulty and skill of the dancers, it's not really a big enough draw. I find the whole movie so un-enjoyable and boring that it's not worth it just to see dancing. This is just my dumb opinion, though - no offense to anyone who likes the film.
So, do I like anything about this film? Yes. I am so grateful to have this film because there are so many funny parodies and references to it. I know Anchorman is not the pinnacle of comedy, but it's a guilty pleasure. The West Side Story fight scene is one of my favorite parts of the whole movie. Even Curb Your Enthusiasm has had some funny references to West Side Story, like the episode with Officer Krupke (not safe for work - language). I may not have liked the song, but hearing Larry David sing it? Amazing. If there was no West Side Story, there would be no West Side Story parodies. There would be no "I killed a man with a trident!" or "Krup you!" And that would be very sad indeed. So while I did not like the movie, I'm very, very glad for it. :)
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on West Side Story
Buy it on Amazon
Officer Krupke on Curb Your Enthusiasm (not safe for work - language)
Anchorman Fight Scene (all the meetings with Wes Mantooth's news team pretty much spoof West Side story)