'Maestro': A Symphony of Missed Notes Although Bradley Cooper Was Outstanding

If you are expecting a film where we see Bernstein just starting to compose, a montage of his student musical days or a deep analysis of his musical career, then you will be disappointed, this is a film about marriage and life

by Sededin Dedovic
'Maestro': A Symphony of Missed Notes Although Bradley Cooper Was Outstanding
© Rotten Tomatoes Trailers / YOutube channel

Maestro is a biographical romantic drama that focuses on the tumultuous relationship between legendary American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein and his actress wife, Felicia Montealegra. Bradley Cooper is stepping into the project, not only playing Bernstein, but also directing, co-writing with Josh Singer, and serving as a producer.

The film premiered in competition at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 2 before arriving on Netflix on December 20 after a limited theatrical run. There's no denying the passion Cooper poured into the Maestro.

It is clear that he is deeply invested in the story of this complex personality, who is considered one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century. However, after experiencing the Maestro, you may not walk away with a deeper understanding or appreciation of Bernstein and his work.

Moments of Brilliance Lost in Artificiality

The film shines in the moments where the music takes center stage. A scene recreating Bernstein conducting the finale of Symphony No. 2 by Gustav Mahler, a stunning orchestral and choral work, is a powerful display of Cooper's acting skills.

His energetic hand movements and expressive facial contortions are undeniably captivating. In a way, there is a sense that Cooper, as director, is positioning himself as the central focus. He ensures that the audience witnesses not only the beauty of the music but also the sweat dripping down his face, reminiscent of the conductor's physical effort.

Maestro movie © Rotten Tomatoes Trailers / YOutube channel

Maestro is undoubtedly a spectacle and is not afraid to be flamboyant. It seems meticulously crafted as "Oscar bait", carefully controlled, manufactured and ultimately, inauthentic.

The portrayal of the relationship between Cooper's Leonard and Carey Mulligan's Felicia works on a surface level, failing to truly delve into the depth of their relationship. The early stages of their relationship and initial spark are played out in black and white, with deliberate camerawork, editing and dialogue that feel like they've been transported to a 1940s New York movie, rather than realistically capturing the essence of their lives.

As the decades progress and the marriage goes through its ups and downs, the film uses period-appropriate color techniques, but conceals the deep complexity that undoubtedly existed in their relationship.

Maestro Movie Trailer© Rotten Tomatoes Trailers / Youtube channel

Before meeting Felicia at a party, Leonard engages in affairs with men, primarily suggested through waking up in the morning or suggestive glances when introducing Felicia.

Felicia is aware of these deceptions and they continue after marriage, although only with men who are not explicitly shown on screen. Her anxiety about these affairs stems primarily from the fear that their children will discover them, with a hint of personal pain.

To some extent we understand Leonardo's motivation for concealing his "orientation". His immense fame meant that such affairs could easily become a public and legal nightmare. However, the film barely touches on the potential influence of his domineering father, who appears in only one scene.

This rushed approach ensures that even potentially interesting moments about Bernstein's pivotal character are quickly forgotten.

Maestro Movie Trailer© Rotten Tomatoes Trailers / Youtube channel

Flashy performances can't save a shallow narrative

Both lead actors deliver Oscar-worthy performances.

They show genuine joy during the film's numerous social gatherings, but also convey a sense of hidden pain and inner conflict in quieter moments. Felicia's unwavering love for Leonardo and seemingly endless patience for his artistic dedication is evident.

Maybe Leonard could fight back more fully if it weren't for his attraction to men. Despite strong performances, the film struggles to shake the feeling that it's oversimplifying these characters and their central relationship.

Maestro is by no means a terrible film. Stellar acting, impressive cinematography with extended, uncut sequences and the aforementioned Mahler symphony scene add to its watchability. However, the script's apparent lack of genuine emotional depth prevents the film from addressing the complexities and controversies surrounding its subjects.

For classic biopic enthusiasts looking for a detailed exploration of Bernstein's life and legacy, Maestro might feel pretentious and underwhelming. Finally, if you are not familiar with the reasons behind Bernstein's legendary status, this film will not enlighten you.

Maestro stands as an artistic biopic of Leonard Bernstein, a project into which Bradley Cooper poured his heart and soul. However, it leaves audiences longing for a deeper understanding of this influential figure and the profound impact he left on the cultural landscape.

In addition to the excellent acting roles, the film is beautifully and interestingly filmed, and the scenes in which Cooper conducts stand out. These are exactly the scenes where we see what music meant to Leonard Bernstein, and if you google and watch a couple of videos of him actually conducting, you'll see how Cooper did a great job.

Maestro is a portrayal of the composer through the lens of family and personal relationships, accompanied by the legendary music that made him famous.