Bradley Cooper has long been a talent included in Oscar conversations. It’s clear that his latest directorial effort is an attempt to showcase his skillset and win the coveted award. “Maestro” explores the relationship between Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia. The film covers many stages of their life, including his illustrious music career, the weight of his success, his sexuality, her cancer, and the complex relationship they maintain throughout their lives.
There’s no doubt Bradley Cooper spent a great deal of effort paying attention to Bernstein’s persona. His performance showcases the commitment to his talent and craft. The time period is also very apparent. Cooper creates such nice set pieces to make sure the film felt like the time period in the story. This helps the audience feel as though we are experiencing Bernstein’s life in the time it was intended. Carey Mulligan was the performance worth highlighting here. Her commitment to Felicia’s role in Leonard’s life helped construct the complex dynamic between the two.
The makeup department earned their paycheck as well. Each stage of Bernstein’s life requires an elaborate amount of physical reconstruction to Cooper’s appearance. He disappears in the role with great help from the prosthetics, which are top notch. I especially enjoyed seeing the work his crew did on the older version of Bernstein. Although I wasn’t crazy about the film, I’ll give Cooper credit for his dedication to telling the story in the format he did. Once the film’s third act commences and we see the couple in their older years, I found it much more interesting. The emotional scenes where Leonard cares for his ailing wife were the best in the whole movie. In general, I would say that the artsy crowd will likely enjoy the film more than other audiences.
While there are some impressive aspects to the filmmaking, I can honestly say that “Maestro” was a slog to get through. It was one of the most strangely paced films I’ve seen all year. It’s not often I check my phone during a film (I usually have a rule against it) but I had to see how much longer the film would be as I sat through it. I couldn’t believe how little substance to the story there was in a movie that felt like an overlong college lecture. The characters are quite hollow and uninteresting, which is unfortunate during the exploration of such an accomplished musician. The way the characters interact with each other felt so pretentious and elitist to the point where normal audiences may feel alienated. It’s not a circumstance where a group of people in a different social crowd or background are simply different. No, they feel like they belong in a setting where their egos need stroking and their status needs recognition. I found it hard to connect with anyone which is a shame.
The film changes from a black and white format to color later in the story. I don’t think this enhanced anything as there was not a clear reason why the transition was happening. Commitment to one or the other would have made the story feel less fractured. Some of the acting is over the top too. I’m no expert on Bernstein or anyone in his circle, but certain scenes are cartoonish with the over the top nature of the character exchanges. There is one scene in particular where Cooper’s performance was so wild that I wasn’t sure if it was impressive or downright hammy. The story is also pretty forgettable, which is unfortunate with the impressive biographical dramas about Freddy Mercury and Elvis recently.
“Maestro” is a skillfully made film that lavishes in the time period and stylistic choices from director Bradley Cooper. Unfortunately, it crumbles under its own ambition…trying to be a film that does it all. Instead of being one of the more memorable biographical dramas, it is one of the most forgettable. I think the crowd that enjoys music history or is curious about the work of Bernstein might find some enjoyment out of this, but all others should save themselves the trip.