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Maestro (Movie Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film

SUMMARY

Bradley Cooper delivers an unvarnished portrait of legendary conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein that highlights this musical icon's proclivities--chain-smoking and homosexuality--and his tumultuous marriage with beautiful actress Felicia Montealegre while his career soars.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Imagine you are attending a piano recital starring a preeminent artist who begins the first selection by exerting greater force on the keys than the score requires. At first, it seems quite exciting but as this musical assault continues, it becomes wearing and you begin to wish that this pianist had exercised more restraint and respect for the composer’s  original intent. Maestro is Bradley Cooper’s relatively unvarnished attempt to give the audience what the late conductor, composer and pianist Leonard Bernstein was like on and off stage. Cooper’s second film as both actor and director was originally to be directed by Martin Scorsese  and then by Stephen Spielberg who ceded this role to Cooper. Production was to have begun in 2021 but, for obvious COVID-related reasons, it was delayed until 2022.

The film opens with an elderly Bernstein being interviewed at home while playing a piano selection from his final opera A Quiet Place that dealt with homosexuality, a contentious subject that would run through the conductor’s 25-year-long and often tempestuous marriage to the beautiful actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) which is the focal point of this two hour-long biopic.

The scene shifts to Bernstein’s big break in 1943 when, at the age of 25, he goes from being assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic to stepping in with no rehearsals  to conduct a broadcast concert after the scheduled guest conductor became ill. Lenny gives the performance of his life and his musical career is off to the races. He meets Felicia at a 1946 cocktail party and, smitten by her beauty, Lenny breaks off his relationship with  clarinetist David Oppenheim (Matt Bomer). The couple gets married in 1952 and eventually have three children: Jamie (Maya Hawke), Alexander (Sam Nivola) and Nina (Alexa Swinton). Their lavish storybook  public lifestyle conceals the private damage that Lenny’s drug abuse and parade of gay boyfriends did to their domestic life.  While Bernstein’s career continues to soar, the seams in his relationship with Felicia begin to unravel as he often takes time away with music scholar Tom Cothran (Gideon Glick). When Felicia contracts lung cancer, Lenny moves back home to care for her until her death in 1978. This tragic event clearly leaves an enduring hole in his heart in spite of his continued musical successes and affairs with younger men.

  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer) and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre 
in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Maya Hawke as Jamie Bernstein and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) and Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro - (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Brian Klugman as Aaron Copland, Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer), Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Sarah Silverman as Shirley Bernstein in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Sarah Silverman as Shirley Bernstein in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. Sarah Silverman as Shirley Bernstein in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer), and Brian Klugman as Aaron Copland in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer), Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre, Yasen Peyankov as Serge Koussevitzky, Julia Aku as Olga and Brian Klugman as Aaron Copland in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer), Brian Klugman as Aaron Copland and Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer), Lea Cooper as Little Jamie and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Sarah Silverman as Shirley Bernstein and Maya Hawke as Jamie Bernstein in Maestro. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Scott Ellis as Harry Kraut, Gideon Glick as Tommy Cothran and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre on the set of Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. (L to R) Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein,  (Director/Writer/Producer) and Gideon Glick as Tommy Cothran in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro. Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.
  • Maestro (2023)
  • Maestro (2023)

Maestro uses crisp black-and-white footage in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio to convey the early years of Bernstein’s life and career and switches to color and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio for the later years, a segue considerably aided by skilled cameraman Scott Sakamoto’s team. While we don’t get a lot of Bernstein the musician/composer there are two scenes that do stand out. The first is a brief but heartfelt rehearsal of the closing chorus from his musical Candide; the second, the culmination of the final movement of Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony” in the Ely Cathedral actually conducted by Bradley Cooper who received tutelage from famed maestro Yannick Nezet-Sequin. Cooper will likely receive his tenth Oscar nomination for this portrayal of an American icon that is so spot-on, down to his prosthetic nose, that it is almost as if Lenny were “resurrected.” Carey Mulligan is also likely to get an Oscar nod as the long-suffering Mrs. Bernstein.  However, like the overwrought piano soloist in my introductory remarks, there is a heavy-handedness to the direction provided by Cooper that does not establish the requisite distance between what is going on behind the camera and that on the screen.  Film audiences will readily get the point that Leonard Bernstein was a consummate chain-smoker and regular member of the gay community. There is little need to repeatedly hammer these points home as it was frequently done in Maestro. Also, I would have loved to experience more magical music moments from the extensive Bernstein catalog. Doubtlessly, Lenny fans will eat this one up, as they should. For the rest of us, a recommendation with reservations although the Academy Awards committee may think otherwise.


Maestro is streaming now on Netflix


  • Rating Certificate: R (for some language and drug use.)
  • Studios & Distributors: Sikelia Productions | Amblin Entertainment | Fred Berner Films | Lea Pictures | Netflix
  • Country: USA
  • Language: English
  • Run Time: 129 Mins.
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 | 1.85:1
  • Director: Bradley Cooper
  • Written By: Bradley Cooper | Josh Singer
  • Release Date: 22 November 2023 (limited theatrical) | 20 December 2023 (Netflix)
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Bradley Cooper delivers an unvarnished portrait of legendary conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein that highlights this musical icon's proclivities--chain-smoking and homosexuality--and his tumultuous marriage with beautiful actress Felicia Montealegre while his career soars.Maestro (Movie Review)