Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, and Sarah Silverman
Director: Bradley Cooper
Truth be told, I had little interest in Maestro since I have no personal connection to Leonard Bernstein. Even as the movie began, I was unsure about it for the first 20-30 minutes. However, credit given where credit is due: it’s exquisite. Bradley Cooper disappears into the role of Bernstein so deeply that you often forget you’re watching an actor, and he’s matched beat-for-beat by Carey Mulligan. Maestro is certainly more of a “film” than a “movie,” so I’m not sure how well the general public will take to it, but for me, this is another win for Cooper both in front of and behind the camera.
Bradley Cooper's sophomore effort in the director's seat, Maestro, sees a drastic upgrade in his abilities behind the camera. Everything is meticulous, the shots are stunning, and the film distinguishes itself pretty amazingly, not to mention Cooper’s unrecognizable performance as Leonard Bernstein, which is complemented beautifully by Carey Mulligan, who I'd argue is even better than Cooper. Sadly, the writing does not reach the heights of its direction, as the film's bullet-point approach almost lost my interest entirely. It won me back towards the end, but not enough to say that Maestro was anything more than great crafts that elevate weak storytelling.
Maestro is an alluring, artistic film that successfully captures the complicated love of its protagonists, Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper) and Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). Mulligan gives us one of the best performances of the year, even outshining the magnificent Cooper. However, the film isn’t without its faults. Cooper is frustratingly incomprehensible at times due to mumbling that is reminiscent of Geoffrey Rush in Shine, which is further hindered by multiple scenes where everyone is talking over each other. The storytelling is choppy, and it's a bit of a slow-starter too. That said, in the end, its overarching successes far outweigh its shortcomings.
If A Star is Born put Bradley Cooper on the map as a director, then Maestro only strengthens that spot because Cooper uses clear advancements in his abilities behind the camera to craft a beautiful film. It’s on screen, however, where he shines brightest, disappearing into the role of Leonard Bernstein. Much like this year's Priscilla, Maestro focuses on a layered and problematic relationship helped along by a terrific performance from Carey Mulligan. Her work as Felicia Montealegre is heartbreaking, and one of the most authentic portrayals of late-stage cancer I’ve seen in some time.
We all know Bradley Cooper, The Actor, but I think Maestro might remove the “underrated” qualifier from Bradley Cooper, The Director because that guy showed out. He brought joy, passion, and pain to each frame, which kept me deeply focused on every present moment. Weirdly though, those moments didn’t stick with me. But weirdly again, those moments didn’t exactly leave me like other moments-in-time movies without a clear destination. I was constantly enthralled by what I was experiencing, and that’s due to Cooper’s outstanding direction. Side note: has there ever been more cigarette screentime in a film? My goodness!
Unfortunately, I felt I was watching a film carefully constructed to attract critical attention and awards nominations. Maestro is frustratingly tame and seems to consciously avoid controversy, which doesn’t make sense considering the complex nature of Leonard Bernstein’s (Bradley Cooper) public and private relationships. It breezes through Bernstein’s life like a tick box exercise, leaving me feeling distanced from the character, and I left the film without insight into Bernstein’s genius or emotional state. However, Carey Mulligan is amazing as she steals every scene she is in, while the film itself is aesthetically and technically impressive. Maestro is all surface and no substance.
Despite the fact that Maestro has elegant cinematography and fantastic performances from its two leads, Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan, I couldn’t help but feel empty and distant throughout the entirety of its runtime. Maybe it just wasn’t quite my tempo, but with a mindless script, it all felt as if the story had nothing to say about its subjects. Even though it’s dazzling and well-directed by Cooper, it’s all too surface-level when it comes to everything about Bernstein’s life, especially the love story with his wife, which is the focal point of its story.
With Maestro, director Bradley Cooper frames some striking shots while also extracting some amazing performances from the cast, but it’s all in service of an underwhelming narrative. By the end of the film, I don’t think I actually learned much about Leonard Bernstein (also Cooper). The film focuses primarily on his marriage, which should’ve been interesting, but the way in which the subject matter is explored is very surface level. Consequently, the film ends up being rather timid. It’s clear that Cooper is a talented director, but I wish Maestro had just a bit more meat on its bones.
This film was reviewed by Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Venice International Film Festival.