‘Maestro’ review: Bradley Cooper nails this Leonard Bernstein biopic

If the summer doesn’t sing in you, then nothing sings in you. And if nothing sings in you, then you can’t make music.’’

Bradley Cooper and his portrayal of musicians are out of the league. In his directorial debut – the 2018 film A Star is Born – he embodied the established singer-songwriter and alcoholic, Jack Maine. His performance alongside Lady Gaga was critically acclaimed and got multiple Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.

In Maestro, Cooper is the real thespian. His rendering as the legendary American conductor Leonard Bernstein is majestic. The movie, which uses flashbacks mostly, portrays Bernstein’s love life with his wife Felicia Montealegre Cohn, even as he had relationships with men. Cooper, thus, makes a bold move to embrace the different identities Bernstein had.

The film launches into a scene where Bernstein, playing the piano and giving an interview, stops and says how much he loved his wife. It then cuts into black and white, showing his first public performance as the conductor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony, when the guest conductor Bruno Walter was down with flu.

The performers

The talkie then focuses on the first meeting between Bernstein and Felicia and their subsequent life. Carey Mulligan’s characterisation as Felicia is the film’s anchor. She expresses the love through her eyes. The fondness and the turbulence are rendered beautifully, and she wins over the audience with the performance of her career.

Cooper and Mulligan redefine their acting and filmmaking skills with this film.

But, the movie is painfully inert and has a pretentious nature when it goes into the past.

Their complicated marriage, their fights, their separation and their reunion are, however, all beautifully employed in the movie. In a particular scene, Felicia hisses and silences the maestro by mirroring his true colours.

Another actor worthy of mention is Matt Bomer, who plays David Oppenheim. He is Bernstein’s boyfriend. When Felicia is introduced to him and he comes to know about Bernstein’s decision to make her his life partner, he expresses his pain subtly through his eyes. In a later scene, when David and family come, Bernstein reveals to their baby that he’s slept with both the parents.

Symbols

Cooper, the filmmaker, uses several symbols and elements to show the life story within a limited running time. Although Bernstein’s sexuality, his triumphs, and his voyage in the musical field are perfectly blended within the silver screen, some shots and transitions feel truncated. The life depiction in the movie is poignant and is elevated when it comes to the end note.

A noteworthy element in the movie is cigarettes. This foreshadows Felicia’s death and other turmoil in the couple’s life.

Though the film is a roller-coaster ride, the love between Felicia and Bernstein is always prominent. It is never broken, even after her death. He’s with her without hesitation when she is in her hard phases. When the film gradually reaches its crescendo, the transition between the past and the present is still in action. It ends with the same interview in the beginning and flashes back to the time when he and Felicia are walking in the orchard.

Cooper uses several musical pieces by Bernstein himself. For example, the piece ‘The Age of Anxiety’ is used when Felicia is diagnosed with lung cancer. ‘Maestro’ is the testimony to the importance of music in Bernstein’s life.

Film: Maestro

OTT platform: Netflix

Director: Bradley Cooper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer and others

Rating: 4/5