November 1, 2023 Theatrical / December 20, 2023 Streaming / Netflix
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman
Directed By: Bradley Cooper
The complex love story of American conductor Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Costa Rican actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) — from their first meeting at a party in 1946 to their long-lasting love throughout their lives.
With two separate engagements, career limitations, and barriers between them, the two learn to form a connection that leads to a 25-year marriage and three children.
Written By Darren
Rating 5 out of 5
Maestro is a masterful showcase for Bradley Cooper as both an actor and director, excelling in both capacities and delivering the best work of his career, that combined with a beautiful performance from Carey Mulligan, results in a true triumph in filmmaking as the love between Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre Bernstein is given the sweeping, grand cinematic treatment it deserves.
Bradley Cooper proved himself as a triple threat with 2018’s unforgettable remake of A Star Is Born where he starred, directed, and sang his heart out alongside Lady Gaga while bringing to life the iconic love story once again on the big screen. Since then, he has been working on his latest directorial effort, taking the reins over from both Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg who were both once attached, bringing legendary American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein’s life to the big screen. Instead of going the traditional musical biopic route, Cooper focuses on the relationship between Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre Bernstein and delivers an intimate character piece with grand music moments sprinkled throughout, delivering a truly show-stopping cinematic experience full of sensational performances and extraordinary musical moments that solidifies himself as a filmmaking genius.
Every actor has that one defining role of their career where they give a performance that takes away the audience’s breath away, creating a role that they will always be remembered for, and Leonard Bernstein is that role for Cooper. Having spent years of pre-production studying Bernstein as an individual and learning how to conduct to prepare for this role, Cooper delivers the defining performance of his career. Instantly, you are drawn into the film with Cooper’s energetic performance of the legendary musician by his warmth, genius, and joyous personality. Cooper radiates with passion every second the camera is focused on him, while at the same time opening up Bernstein emotionally to the audience with a vulnerability that captures his relationship with his wife Felicia. Pain, triumph, passion, and love are all traits that Cooper brings to his performance, which creates one of the most marvelous performances of the year. Combined with the excellent makeup and prosthetics, you do not see Cooper on screen, but only Bernstein. Then… Cooper begins conducting. Cooper spent years learning how to become a conductor of an orchestra, studying videos of Bernstein conducting orchestras and choirs, and he conducts live throughout the film. There are lots of small conducting moments in the first two acts of the film that are impressive, but it’s all building to Bernstein conducting the London Symphony Orchestra playing the finale of Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2 in C Minor” in the third act, which is one of the most jaw dropping moments of the year caught on film. In one staggering six and a half minute sequence, Cooper unleashes a masterful whirlwind of passion and technical expertise as he conducts the London Symphony Orchestra live on camera in one phenomenal musical performance where he channels Bernstein’s magnificence as a conductor. It’s a sequence that will give you chills, make your jaw drop and leave you speechless as it truly transcends the camera and becomes an unforgettable experience. In the matter of that single scene which acts as the cherry on top of an already extraordinary performance, Cooper has probably just secured himself his first Academy Award as not a single performance this year comes close to what he channeled in Maestro.
Though, it is not Cooper but Carey Mulligan who gets top billing for the film as Bernstein’s wife Felicia, and Mulligan is every bit as sensational as Cooper. Bringing an elegance and tenacity to Felicia, Mulligan gives a beautiful performance as Felicia as she captures the nuances of their relationship. She ensures that you never question the love that Felicia has for her husband or the respect she has for his talent that keeps him busy for long periods of time, but she lets you into the heartbreak of their relationship at the same time. With Bernstein having younger male lovers, Mulligan gives a powerful performance as she grapples with the complex feelings of love, loneliness and jealousy that Felicia felt during her marriage to Bernstein, which is expertly written to never make either Bernstein or Felicia feel like a villain but a normal individual coming to terms with the choices they have made. It’s a nuanced, layered and stunning performance that will bring tears to your eyes, and much like Cooper, makes for one of the best performances of the year that could also snag Mulligan her first Academy Award. As a pairing, Cooper and Mulligan have an undeniable chemistry that makes you immediately fall in love with Lenny and Felicia, feeling every joy and heartbreak during their loving marriage. It’s an unparalleled pairing that eclipse the entire film, with both of them separately and together stealing the spotlight from the rest of the talented supporting cast of Matt Bomer, Sarah Silverman and Maya Hawke.
With a film focused on Bernstein, there is no need for an original score as the music Bernstein composed and conducted is enough to capture every emotion in the story. There is a wonderful mix of his compositions, including legendary musicals like West Side Story and Candide, and the grand symphonies he composed that help bring to life the film. At the same time, there is some popular music sprinkled throughout, capturing Bernstein’s fascination with all types of music and helping to create an honest portrayal of one of the greatest conductors and composers of all time.
Audiences have an expectation when watching a biopic that you are going to get a good mix of the subject’s professional and personal life, but Maestro subverts expectations in the best way imaginable. While there are many moments where we get to see Bernstein and Felicia at work, the focus of the film is on their relationship, not their professional lives. The screenplay captures the heart of their relationship, balancing both their private life and their moments in the public eye. Showcasing both their joyful moments together, their struggles and the strength of their bond, it is expertly written while weaving in Bernstein’s musical genius throughout, though the musical sequences always have an element of their relationship to keep the focus on Bernstein and Felicia. Under Cooper’s direction, there is a mixture of grand cinematic moments with impressive cinematography showing the scale of Bernstein’s career and conducting that creates truly cinematic moments that must be experienced on the big screen, with quieter moments or more intimate shots that allows the relationship between Bernstein and Felicia to flourish. Cooper’s direction ensures that their relationship remains the focus, delivering an intimate portrayal of this couple’s enduring love for each other while never sacrificing the big musical moments that the audience is expecting from the film.
Not only has Bradley Cooper yet again proven himself a remarkable director and his innate ability to capture music on camera with his second directorial effort, but he has crafted one of the best films of the year. It’s a remarkable experience in every aspect of filmmaking ranging from mesmerizing performances, the tender and intimate portrayal of the relationship between Bernstein and Felicia, and the directorial prowess that Bradley Cooper brings to the film. With a career defining performance from Bradley Cooper and another sensational performance from Carey Mulligan that should set them both on the path to winning their first Academy Awards, Maestro conducts an intimate and show-stopping experience that crescendos throughout and reaches a grandisimo with a stunning musical sequence, delivering one of the most unforgettable films of the entire year!