Directed by: Bradley Cooper
Premise: A biographical story of composer Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) focusing on his relationship to his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan).
What Works: Maestro is beautifully produced. The story takes place over several decades and each portion has the feel of movies produced during that era. The early scenes are in black and white, the middle portion has a saturated look that approximates the Technicolor movies of the 1960s, and later scenes have a cleaner, more polished look and a wider aspect ratio. The cinematography and camera movement are done very well and work with the performances to draw out the meaning of the scenes. Maestro is paced quite well, running through decades of material without getting bogged down and the whole film has an impressive musicality to the way it is assembled and how one set piece leads into the next. The style is occasionally surreal, especially early on, in ways that resemble a classic Hollywood musical. The standout performance of Maestro is Carey Mulligan as actress Felicia Montealegre. This story is a portrait of their marriage and the difficulties of two driven and creative people reconciling their ambitions. The challenge is compounded by the non-monogamous nature of their marriage and time exacerbates Montealegre’s insecurities. She’s the most interesting character in Maestro and Mulligan creates a complicated and tragic portrait.
What Doesn’t: Bradley’s Cooper’s performance as Leonard Bernstein is uneven. He’s quite good in the later portion of Maestro in which he’s more naturalistic and disappears into the role but his performance is too showy and self-conscious in the early black and white scenes. His dialogue delivery is off and Cooper often sounds artificial like an imitation or an actor in a stage play. Maestro is centered upon Bernstein’s relationship with Montealegre. She’s the most interesting aspect of the movie but the filmmakers are determined to focus on Bernstein. The result is a story fighting itself. When Montealegre eventually exits the narrative Maestro’s problem becomes very evident. The story has reached its organic conclusion but it keeps going and the emphasis on Bernstein is not interesting. What defined Leonard Bernstein was his music but there’s just not very much of that here. Maestro reveals nothing about Bernstein as a musician and the love story and the composer’s complicated personal life are disconnected from the music. In the end, Maestro doesn’t reveal much of anything about its subject.
Disc extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Maestro is a mixed effort. The film is well produced and has a terrific performance by Carey Mulligan. However, Maestro suffers from a story that isn’t very inspired and a character study that reveals little about its subject.
Episode: #979 (December 31, 2023)