Movie Review: Bradley Cooper’s ‘Maestro’ Explores the Complex Life of Leonard Bernstein

by Andrew Wright
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Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” takes audiences on a high-wire journey through the life of renowned conductor Leonard Bernstein. This biopic seamlessly weaves together his public persona as a conductor and his private life, including his marriage to Felicia Montealegre. The interplay between these two facets of Bernstein’s existence forms the core tension and harmony of “Maestro,” leaving viewers to ponder what is authentic and what is merely performance.

Fortunately, Cooper’s film doesn’t attempt to neatly resolve the contradictions in Bernstein’s life. Instead, it ambitiously portrays the complexities of a man who juggled family life, a series of male lovers, conducting, and the solitary task of composing. Bernstein’s life was expansive and contradictory, and “Maestro” doesn’t shy away from this complexity.

The movie, which debuts in theaters before streaming on Netflix, doesn’t follow the typical cradle-to-grave biopic formula. Instead, it focuses primarily on the beginning and end of Bernstein’s relationship with Montealegre, an actor he meets at a party. This framework provides some benefits, allowing Carey Mulligan, who portrays Felicia Montealegre, to take center stage. However, it also means that significant portions of Bernstein’s musical career, including his iconic works like “West Side Story” and “Candide,” are left largely unexplored.

“Maestro” begins with a thrilling black-and-white sequence that sets the tone for the film’s unconventional approach. Characters exit scenes as if falling through trap doors, creating a surreal atmosphere driven by Bernstein’s music. This unique blend of storytelling and music-making provides an engaging start to the film.

Throughout the movie, “Maestro” draws a direct connection between lovemaking and music, emphasizing the idea that one’s inner life deeply influences their artistry. The film captures moments of intimacy and passion, such as Bernstein and Montealegre running lines together on a stage, beautifully lit by a single floor lamp.

The first hour of “Maestro” is brisk, free of typical biopic constraints, and evokes a dreamlike sense of 1950s New York modernism. The dialogue is sharp, and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique seamlessly transitions between intimate moments and sweeping vistas of picturesque locations like Tanglewood and Central Park.

However, as the film shifts into color and moves forward in time, it loses some of its initial energy. The story homes in on the early 1970s, when Bernstein and Montealegre are married with children. Their relationship becomes strained due to Bernstein’s infidelity, leading to dramatic confrontations and emotional turmoil.

While Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Bernstein has received attention, it’s Carey Mulligan’s performance that shines as the film delves into the complexities of their marriage. Mulligan captures Felicia Montealegre’s infatuation with her husband, as well as her clear-eyed understanding of the situation. Her powerful performance provides the emotional heart of the movie.

In the end, “Maestro” is a finely crafted portrait of a complicated marriage, but it doesn’t delve deeply into Bernstein’s musical genius and achievements. For a man of Bernstein’s stature, there are many unplayed notes in this cinematic composition.

“Maestro,” a Netflix release, is rated R for some language and drug use, with a running time of 129 minutes. While it has moments of brilliance, it may leave audiences longing for a more comprehensive exploration of Leonard Bernstein’s remarkable musical legacy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Biopic

What is “Maestro” about?

“Maestro” is a biographical film that delves into the complex life of renowned conductor Leonard Bernstein, exploring his marriage, music, and personal struggles.

Who plays a prominent role in the film?

Carey Mulligan takes center stage in “Maestro” as she portrays Felicia Montealegre, Leonard Bernstein’s wife, delivering a standout performance.

Does the movie focus on Leonard Bernstein’s musical career?

While the film touches on Bernstein’s musical career, it primarily centers on his personal life, marriage, and the complexities of his relationships.

What is the movie’s tone and style?

“Maestro” begins with a dreamlike, black-and-white sequence, evoking 1950s New York modernism. It later transitions to color and becomes more focused on the emotional dynamics of Bernstein’s marriage.

Is “Maestro” a comprehensive biopic of Leonard Bernstein?

No, the film does not provide a cradle-to-grave depiction of Bernstein’s life. It primarily focuses on specific periods of his life, especially his relationship with Felicia Montealegre.

How does Carey Mulligan’s performance contribute to the film?

Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Felicia Montealegre adds emotional depth to the movie, capturing her infatuation with Bernstein and her clear-eyed perspective on their relationship.

What is the movie’s rating and duration?

“Maestro” is rated R for some language and drug use, with a running time of 129 minutes.

Does the film explore Leonard Bernstein’s musical achievements in detail?

No, the movie offers limited exploration of Bernstein’s iconic musical works, such as “West Side Story” and “Candide.” It focuses more on his personal life.

What is the overall impression of “Maestro”?

While the film has moments of brilliance, it may leave viewers wishing for a more comprehensive exploration of Leonard Bernstein’s remarkable musical legacy.

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