Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Director Bradley Cooper conducts a cinematic symphony in Maestro

Four Academy Award Nominee (Thrice for Best Actor and Once for Best Supporting), Bradley Cooper stays in the music world for his sophomore directorial effort in Maestro from Netflix. Like his debut, A Star Is Born, Cooper wears three hats as star, director, and co-writer (along with Josh Singer) in the film.

In the simplest of terms, Maestro is a towering and fearless love story chronicling the lifelong relationship between legendary Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein (Carey Mulligan). Although I had heard of Leonard Bernstein, I was unfamiliar with his personal life before watching the film.

The movie starts by showing an interview with Bernstein in his later years, where he is seen sitting at the piano. The camera then takes us back to the mid-1940s, where we find Lennie, as his close friends call him, lying in bed with his male lover. Lennie receives news that will significantly impact his career during this intimate moment. Soon, he meets Chilean actress Felica Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), and the two begin a whirlwind romance that leads to marriage and three children.

One of the first things that struck me about Maestro was Cooper’s decision to film both in color and black & white. The scenes in black & white were glorious, with beautiful cinematography, and gave the film a style that recalled Hollywood’s Golden Age. Sitting in my press screening and seeing the film’s condensed aspect ratio was also a treat for the cinephile in me.

The biopic takes a refreshing approach by avoiding the usual overused tropes and centering the narrative on Lennie, the man behind the music, rather than just the composer. Cooper’s performance is genuinely transformative, and his accent adds a convincing layer of realism to the role. The film delves into Lennie’s vulnerabilities and flaws, fleshing out his character and making him more relatable to the audience. The result is a poignant and nuanced portrayal that elevates the story beyond a typical biopic.

Carey Mulligan’s performance as Felica Montealegre in the movie is truly remarkable. She doesn’t rely on exaggerated theatrics. Instead, she portrays the character as a woman fully aware of her husband’s secret life but chooses to ignore it if he doesn’t cross certain boundaries. Although no scene explicitly outlines their agreement, the film suggests this was the norm in marriages during that time, where divorce was never an option. Mulligan skillfully conveys a range of emotions throughout the film, and I’m confident she will appear on many awards contender lists.

In addition to our two leads, some other well-known actors are in the supporting cast, such as Matt Bomer playing David Oppenheim and Maya Hawke portraying Lennie’s oldest daughter. However, neither of them receives the same amount of attention as our main characters. Cooper manages the composing scenes effortlessly, demonstrating his passion for classical music.

Although the film features big-name producers (Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese) and A-List stars, potential viewers should know that it is very dialogue-heavy and may only be suitable for some tastes. Nevertheless, Cooper set out to make a Love Letter to Life and Art an emotionally epic portrayal of family and love with a legendary composer as its backdrop, and in that regard, he succeeds.

Final Grade: B+

Maestro is in select theaters now and will be available for streaming on Netflix starting December 20th.

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