Review of Maestro – A heartfelt biopic of Leonard Bernstein with Bradley Cooper in the lead role.


Last year in Venice, Cate Blanchett introduced us to Lydia Tár, a fictional conductor struggling with inner turmoil. She found solace in watching old childhood VHS tapes of her mentor, the renowned conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein. In these tapes, he spoke about how music can evoke emotions that one may not understand or even realize they are capable of. Now, in a stunning transformation, Bradley Cooper has both directed and starred in a sincere and tasteful film about Bernstein and his tumultuous relationship with his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn, a Costa Rican actress and activist. Carey Mulligan portrays Felicia with a delicate British demeanor and self-awareness.

Sadly, Felicia must come to accept that her superstar husband dominates all attention and is unfaithful with young men. This film is compelling and smooth, with Cooper and Mulligan grinning, improvising, and talking over each other in many scenes. Cooper has faced backlash for using “Jewface” in his portrayal of a Jewish character, but not for portraying a gay character. However, within the context of the entire film, the prosthetic nose is not a major issue. It could even be seen as fitting retribution for Nicole Kidman’s absurd fake nose in The Hours, where she played a notorious anti-semite, Virginia Woolf.

In the beginning of the movie, filmed in striking black-and-white, a young Bernstein exudes pure creative energy, but lacks the refined self-indulgence of a European. He is distinctly American: strong, honest, and direct, almost like an athlete outside of competition, and with an impressive work ethic that he never frets over. His voice at this point is light and somewhat high-pitched, in contrast to the deep, gravelly tone of his older self. His attraction to men is just one aspect of himself that he is comfortable with. When he meets Felicia at a party in the presence of his sister Shirley (portrayed by Sarah Silverman, who has recently discussed her mixed feelings about non-Jewish actors being cast in supporting roles), there is an immediate spark of happiness. This encounter sets the tone for the film’s screwball comedy style, with Lenny and Felicia talking rapidly back and forth, a style that persists throughout the movie, only dissipating in the final poignant scenes.

Over time, the sharp black and white images are replaced by vibrant colors, giving the photos a Sunday newspaper feel. However, this change also adds a seedier and less innocent tone compared to the previous black and white style. In these photos, we see Bernstein, who has indulged in too much success, charming those around him and basking in his own prestige. He also engages in relationships with younger men and eventually lies to his daughter about the rumors she has heard, dismissing them as mere jealousy.

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro.

Regarding Cooper, he bears a striking resemblance to the renowned man, especially in his portrayal of Bernstein’s frightening and greedy upper teeth, which are exposed as Bernstein throws his head back in ecstasy at the podium. It may be expected that such a skilled and studied impersonation would have a touch of narcissism, but as always with Cooper, his theatrical technique is quite impressive – although there are times when Lenny’s piano playing makes him slightly resemble Michael Douglas playing Liberace.

Ultimately, Cooper’s Maestro triumphs by being honest about the sacrifices that come with being an artist, and the toll it takes on both the artists themselves and their loved ones. Despite his love for his wife, Bernstein refused to compromise his true self. There is a somber acknowledgement of this reality.

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