Maestro Review: Cooper Shines as Bernstein

Maestro Review: Cooper Shines as Bernstein: Bradley Cooper’s versatility extends beyond acting.
Cooper has showcased his multifaceted talents in various roles, from writing and producing the 2019 Oscar-nominated “A Star Is Born” to his recent performance in the music drama “Maestro.” His musical prowess was evident alongside Lady Gaga in “A Star Is Born,” and now he delivers a compelling portrayal as Leonard Bernstein in “Maestro.”

“Maestro” delves into Bernstein’s complex character, exploring his enduring relationship with his wife, actress Felicia Montealegre (played by Carey Mulligan). The film navigates the challenges their marriage faced due to Bernstein’s personal struggles, including his relationships outside of marriage, overconfidence, and inner insecurities. While the biopic occasionally lacks a clear direction and feels somewhat fragmented, Mulligan’s strong performance and Cooper’s captivating portrayal elevate the film, with Cooper delivering a performance that could earn him accolades.

The film opens in a vintage black-and-white style, highlighting a pivotal moment in Bernstein’s musical journey. In 1943, a 25-year-old Bernstein, serving as the assistant conductor for the New York Philharmonic, receives an opportunity of a lifetime at Carnegie Hall. As his professional trajectory soars, he encounters Felicia at a gathering. Their connection is instantaneous, sparked by shared narratives and mutual artistic passions.

A Romantic Journey Amidst Artistic Ambitions

Their love blossoms, with Felicia passionately advocating for Bernstein to delve deeper into composing. “Why would you ever abandon this talent?” she questions, as they are mesmerized by a dance sequence featuring sailors to the tunes from “On the Town.” Bernstein, however, views his work as less conventional. As the 1950s unfold, they tie the knot and start a family. Bernstein gains acclaim for iconic works like “West Side Story,” collaborating with Jerome Robbins (portrayed by Michael Urie). Yet, Bernstein’s sister, Shirley (played by Sarah Silverman), cautions Felicia about the challenges of being closely associated with such a towering figure in the music world.

As the narrative transitions to vibrant colors, the story progresses into the 1960s and ’70s. Bernstein’s discreet same-sex relationships become more apparent. Prior to his relationship with Felicia, Bernstein shared a connection with clarinetist David Oppenheim (played by Matt Bomer). However, as Bernstein becomes involved with a younger individual, Tommy Cothran (portrayed by Gideon Glick), and his daughter Jamie (depicted by Maya Hawke) confronts him about speculations surrounding his relationships, tensions escalate, creating strains within their marriage.

A Symphony of Bernstein’s Life and Complexities

“Maestro” unfolds much like a symphonic composition, weaving together various chapters of Bernstein’s life to paint a comprehensive portrait of his character, capturing both his professional triumphs and personal challenges. However, the film occasionally skims over pivotal moments, offering only a surface-level exploration. Intriguing facets, such as Bernstein’s relationships with figures like Robbins and Aaron Copland (portrayed by Brian Klugman), or the intriguing suggestion by a mentor for him to adopt a less overtly Jewish name to enhance his stature as a groundbreaking American conductor, remain underexplored.

Cooper’s portrayal compensates for these narrative gaps. He adeptly captures Bernstein’s youthful passion, complemented by Mulligan’s captivating portrayal of Felicia. Yet, Cooper’s metamorphosis into Bernstein truly shines in the later stages of the film, aided by the expertise of Oscar-winning makeup artist Kazu Hiro, despite some discussions around the prosthetic choices made. Particularly memorable is the six-minute rendition of Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony from 1973. In this scene, Cooper embodies Bernstein with fervor, his hair tousled, and baton commanding the air. Cooper’s astute decision to incorporate Bernstein’s original compositions, such as pieces from “West Side,” “Mass,” and “Candide,” enhances the authenticity, with moments of poignant silence accentuating the narrative.

“Maestro” presents a contrasting perspective to last year’s film “Tár.” While Cate Blanchett’s portrayal delves deeper into the intricacies of artistic expression through a fictional conductor, Cooper’s rendition excels in portraying an iconic American figure while also delving into his human side.
If Cooper decides to explore roles as a drummer or even a tuba player in the future, audiences would undoubtedly be eager to secure a ticket.

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