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Maestro Movie Review

Maestro (2023)

Watch Maestro on Netflix
Written by: Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer (written by)
Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer, Sarah Silverman, Maya Hawke
Rated: R
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This love story chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.

Throughout this movie, I wondered what is it. Is this about an amazing artist or his complicated relationships? It focuses more on the latter, but it never does justice to just how great of a composer he was. This ignores his activism as well as his place in history. This does have some amazing sequences, but with the prosthetics and subject I can’t help but wonder if this is awards bait. The movie fails to take a stance on the relationship or even push us to make our own decisions. I leave this movie knowing only a little of what the protagonist did and even less of who he was.
It depends.

Leonard Bernstein is considered to be one of the most important conductors of his time, and he was the first American-born, American-trained conductor to achieve international status. He was the first American-born conductor to lead a major American symphony orchestra. His honors and accolades include seven Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, and sixteen Grammy Awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The first scene’s point seems to be showing off the old age makeup. It is really impressive. Then we cut to 1943 where Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) makes a last minute conducting debut  in Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic which was broadcast nationwide. Due to that, Bernstein became famous overnight.

Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein

Soon Leonard meets Felicia Montealegre Cohn (Carey Mulligan) at a party. They have an instant connection and a few scenes later they already have a family.

Felicia talks about being in the orbit of someone with such a big personality. The movie implies she’s aware of his predilections. It seems she’s upset when he’s blatant about wooing others in public. In another scene Leonard talks with his kid about rumors she heard which he assures her aren’t true. We don’t know the rumors, but even if this particular rumor isn’t true it’s likely others are. For someone that has seemed rather open, I was surprised he’s not as open with his children. I’d guess it’s due to the disrespect it shows to their mother. 

Halfway I wondered about the plot. Is this about the drive it takes to be the best? How talent gives you a lot of opportunities both good and bad? We’re shown key moments from Bernstein’s life, but this hints at a double life without doing anything with it. We get a scene with Felicia at the bottom of a swimming pool screaming as Leonard finishes a piece of music. Is it the stress of being married to an elite artist or to a man that has many other relationships? We never get a conversation about what their arrangement is. From an earlier scene we don’t know if she’s upset he’s flirting in public or because it’s a man.

Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper play Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein

This has a few big pushing shots and cute edits. I don’t know if it’s me, but this movie feels like Cooper pushing for acclaim, acknowledgement, and awards. We get this long tracking shot of Bernstein conducting in a chapel. It feels like the scene is showing off. I get Bernstein is into the music, but I wonder if he really conducted like that. The performance feels like mimicry. I’d like these sweeping shots more if it didn’t feel like the movie is reaching. This seems to push for a big moment through framing and movement rather than through creating a moment built by dialog and sequencing. This movie arguably is about Leonard and Felicia’s relationship, but that seems to be secondary to big shots.

There’s a lot this doesn’t show about Bernstein. We just see his complicated life and oversized personality. It references his skill, but he truly was a great artist that also did a lot for social causes. Everyone is attracted to him because of his talent, but the movie doesn’t establish that well.

Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein

You could look at this as a troubled relationship from Felicia’s side, but there’s too much Leonard in this to be her movie. I wouldn’t mind if this leaned into the idea that he’s such an adept talent that he gets a pass for his behavior, and it’s up to the audience to criticize or accept it but this movie never takes that step.

By the end, this is a movie with amazing makeup, beautiful production design, and sweeping shots. Bio-pics often do well when it comes to awards, especially with prosthetics involved. I want more out of this story. With how this is presented, it feels like the story was secondary. Cooper feels like he’s always performing as Bernstein. His presentation doesn’t differ whether he’s in public or private which just feels unnatural. It never feels like we see the real Bernstein. I wanted to see a private conversation with he and his wife to see how he acts when he’s not in the spotlight.


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