Maestro (2023)

December 20th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Bradley Cooper | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper | US Biopic Drama 130′

Leonard Bernstein was a world class conductor. He was also a conflicted personality. And this conflict lies at the heart of this astonishing biopic love story from Bradley Cooper who started his career as an actor in Hangover and Guardians of the Galaxy, and is now an Oscar class director. Maestro deserves to win an award for its exuberance, intelligence, and standout turns from Carey Mulligan and the director himself who plays the leading role.

How does an extrovert performer – such as a conductor – also satisfy his inner life as a creative composer: these are the two qualities that Bernstein struggled to satisfy and Cooper managed to bring them out into the open in his best film so far.

Bernstein was gay but he was also deliriously happy with his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), a Chilean actress who takes him on, despite his complex sexuality. Cooper’s ambitious biopic showcases Bernstein’s entire adult life from 1943 when he bursts onto the music scene as a 25 year old stand-in at Carnegie Hall, after the regular conductor drops out. He proves to be a dab hand with a baton and then falls for Montealegre at a friend’s cocktail do.

The couple’s coup de foudre is an urbane, witty affair and their onscreen chemistry sizzles, seizing the front pages in glistening black and white footage. It’s often hard to keep up with their frothy peripatetic lifestyle as careers blossom and their family grows to make them the talk of the town in all the right circles.

Occasionally veering into pastiche Cooper’s dazzling direction and script (co-written with Josh Singer) keeps us on board with Bernstein’s highs, lows and achievements in the thrilling whirlwind that gradually switches to colour in the more realistic 1970s.

And this is where dark cloud threaten the couple’s gilded lifestyle, Bernstein stealing an ill-judged behind the scenes kiss with a pretty boy (Matt Boomer) who then lurks in the background for the rest of the film, and Montealegre struggle with cancer. And Mulligan is the star turn here in one of the best performances of her career: as the gifted, tortured, adaptable Felicia. Her subtlety and sophistication is mind-blowing in some deft dialogue scenes where she spars with Cooper with exquisite precision. The subject may be Bernstein but this is Mulligan’s film. MT 



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