Bradley Cooper’s latest directorial venture, “Maestro,” has captured the hearts of audiences at the Venice Film Festival. The biographical drama, centered around the life of renowned composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, has been met with critical acclaim and has solidified Cooper’s standing as a serious director in the film industry.
“Maestro” delves into the complex life of Leonard Bernstein, raising questions about ambition, identity, and love. Can one person excel as a world-class conductor while also composing for Broadway and Hollywood? Can they find acceptance in a society that often judges based on surnames? And can they balance a traditional marriage while engaging in same-sex relationships? These questions mirror the challenges faced by Bradley Cooper himself, transitioning from a comedic actor in “The Hangover” to a respected actor-director-writer-producer.
Premiering a film about such a legendary figure in the musical world just a year after Todd Field’s “Tár” takes courage, even if Lydia Tár was a fictional character. Cooper also stepped into the director’s chair for a project previously linked to Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, both of whom stayed on as producers. “Maestro” proves that Cooper, with his sky-high ambitions, technical virtuosity, and heartfelt sincerity, can bring his visions to life with flair.
One of the film’s striking aspects is its multi-decade timeline, with Cooper adeptly adjusting the film’s style to suit each period. The story begins in 1943, featuring a 25-year-old Bernstein as a last-minute replacement conductor at Carnegie Hall, marking the birth of a star. As the narrative unfolds, viewers witness Bernstein’s journey as he composes for musicals and navigates relationships, all presented in distinctive styles that mirror the eras.
While “Maestro” occasionally flirts with clichés and rapid-fire name dropping, it captures the essence of each period with tremendous energy and verve. The film transitions from a black-and-white backstage melodrama reminiscent of the 1940s to a gritty 1970s drama as Bernstein’s fame grows.
Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Felicia Montealegre, an actress in love with Bernstein, is a standout performance. The screenplay, co-authored by Cooper and Josh Singer, opts for a character-driven narrative rather than a straightforward recounting of Bernstein’s accomplishments. It paints a fond yet candid picture of Bernstein, celebrating his vibrant personality while acknowledging his complexities and idiosyncrasies. Cooper embodies the character with infectious enthusiasm, never shying away from portraying both the jovial and the poignant sides of Bernstein.
Despite Cooper’s prosthetic nose, a subject of debate in casting a non-Jewish actor as a Jewish character, “Maestro” manages to immerse viewers into its narrative. The make-up artistry is so impeccable that the prosthetic becomes inconspicuous, and the elderly Bernstein scenes boast some of the most convincing old-age make-up in cinema.
While Bradley Cooper’s name might take top billing, Carey Mulligan shines brilliantly in her role, adding depth and charm to “Maestro.” The film, set for release on Netflix in December, presents an engaging portrayal of Leonard Bernstein’s life and legacy.
Release Date: December 20, 2023, on Netflix