Maestro (dir. Bradley Cooper)
By: Meghan Winebrenner
Ever since A Star is Born stunned the film industry back in 2018, anticipation has been building for Bradley Cooper’s sophomore film as a director. Maestro is a film four years in the making and tells the true story of Leonard Bernstein, the great American conductor. On top of directing, Cooper also stars in the film as Leonard “Lenny” Bernstein, and gives one of the most mesmerizing performances of his illustrious career. Alongside Cooper, Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) takes on the role of Felicia Montealegre who served as Bernstein's partner in life and love. The film dives into the complexities of marriage, music, and sexuality while detailing the tribulations that come along with the human experience.
Maestro opens with a quote from Bernstein himself stating: “A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers.” The film goes on to spend the rest of its two hour and nine minute run dissecting the contradictory answers that occur within Bernstein's life as well as those that lie in nature. With make-up and set design to take an audiences’ breath away Maestro delivers beauty in a variety of forms. The film's shifts from technicolor to black and white highlights the romanticization of one's 20s and is elevated further with the 1.37:1 aspect ratio making the audience feel like they are watching an old-timey classic feature film. These bold choices are highlighted again by the costume and set design departments leaving the audience with a wistfulness for the fashions of mid-20th century New York. From what is seen on the screen to what echoes through the speakers, Bernstein and his brilliance live on through Cooper’s film.
On top of its beauty, Maestro hooks audiences with its award-worthy performances. Cooper transforms into Bernstein not only through his acting chops, but also through the use of prosthetics that allow him to metamorphosize from a spritely 20-year-old Lenny to a compassionate 70-year-old Bernstein. The star's performance is matched by the talents of Mulligan, and the their on-screen chemistry reflects the complex layers of love that is shared between Felicia and Lenny. Fighting to embrace all aspects of themselves, their heart wrenching love story is also amplified by the film’s masterful score that features many of Bernstein’s own compositions. Maestro proves that conducting is a task that few truly understand, and during a performance an audiences’ attention could be diverted from the person at the center of the stage to the layers of the instruments, the grandeur of the theater, or the opulence of the music. But, regardless of where one’s focus strays, the conductor remains the center of their symphony, just as Bradley Cooper remains the heart of this marvelous film.
Target Score: 8/10 - Bradley Cooper’s performance stands out as one of the highlights of his career. While the film may lose pace at times, the love Leonard Bernstein shared for people and music is clear throughout, making Maestro one of the most exquisite films of the year.