The HoloFiles

REVIEW: Maestro

By Josh Bate & George Bate

In 2018, Bradley Cooper made the jump from acting to the directing chair in the modern remake of A Star is Born, the tragic tale of a troubled musician and the up and down relationship with his wife. Cooper starred in the film as well, and went on to be a major contender at that year’s Academy Awards. Cooper was praised for his take on the role, especially as he showed his range as a performer and filmmaker, after previously making a name in less serious ventures like The Hangover.

Cooper’s followup is Maestro, once again directed and starring the Midnight Meat Train-actor. Maestro tells the story of the infamous and renowned musician Leonard Bernstein, who was an American composer, conducer, and pianist. Bernstein’s most famous and well-known work is the Broadway musical West Side Story, which continues to be popular to this day (as recently as 2021, Steven Spielberg made a film remake of the play). Bernstein also conducted the score for Marlon Brando’s On the Waterfront, among other acclaimed movies. 

For all of the fame and acclaim of Bernstein, Cooper opts to focus less on his very eye-catching public persona (the musician once notably blacklisted by the United States Department of State and the CBS Network for holding suspected Communist ideals, and was also present as a performer during the Stars From Freedom Rally, which was the event that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his inspirational “How Long, Not Long’ speech). Instead, Cooper hones in on Bernstein and his relationship with his wife, Felicia Montealegre Cohn, who arguably takes center stage as the film gives audiences a sympathetic and memorable glimpse into her life and what it was like to be married to the musician. 

Maestro succeeds by finding the nuance in its main character. Leonard Bernstein was a complicated, multi-faceted human being, and one that could easily be portrayed as a full-scale hero or villain. Cooper, who also co-produced and co-wrote the film, which debuts on Netflix on December 20, shows all sides of Bernstein, from his undeniable talent as a composer to his questionable moral decisions making him unfaithful to his wife. The film doesn’t shy away from that, which helps the story to feel like a more authentic portrayal of Bernstein’s life and his marriage with Cohn. 

Bradley Cooper gives an impressive performance as Bernstein, overcoming the bizarre and distracting choice to wear a comically-offensive prosthetic nose throughout. Cooper is by no means giving an all-time great performance here, which is likely what he would have hoped for after spending years developing the film. Cooper’s turn as the musician isn’t as memorable or impactful as Paul Giamatti in The Holdovers or Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer this year, for example, but he still does more than enough to lift Maestro and make it a worthwhile watch. Cooper does well opposite Carey Mulligan, who plays his wife, and arguably steals the show.

Mulligan’s Cohn and her relationship with Bernstein is clear from the onset. Bernstein’s infidelities and open sexuality presented problem after problem for their marriage, but Cooper makes it clear that his character still loves his wife. In one of the opening scenes of the film, Bernstein appears on television to speak about his wife and how much he loves her and misses her after her death. Despite that, there’s a complexity to their relationship, in part due to Bernstein’s pursuit of clarinettist David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer. 

Mulligan emphasizes that complexity more than anyone in the film, as her character serves as a guiding light for an impulsive Bernstein. As good as Cooper can be in Maestro as the publicly loud and attention-seeking, introverted in private individual, Mulligan truly steals the show. Her character, Felicia, is the heart of the movie, and although the story is centered on Bernstein, Mulligan and her performance is the real reason to watch this movie.

VERDICT: 8/10

Maestro is the latest directorial effort from Bradley Cooper, who also takes on a starring role and gives an impressive performance as the composer Leonard Bernstein. Despite that, and an occasionally dull and lackluster overarching narrative, Carey Mulligan is the highlight of the film, giving one of the best performances of her career to date. As a follow-up to the gut-wrenching A Star is Born, Maestro continues to prove that Bradley Cooper is a promising young director.

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