Maestro is Directed by and Stars Bradley Cooper, as well as Carey Mulligan and Maya Hawke
Bradley Cooper’s Maestro, on paper, sings a seductive aria. A biopic of the iconic composer Leonard Bernstein, it promises a kaleidoscope of artistic genius, turbulent love affairs, and the intoxicating swirl of New York City’s cultural elite. Yet, the film that stumbles onto the screen feels more like a rehearsal gone awry, leaving audiences with a bittersweet longing for the unplayed potential.
While technically adept on all fronts, Maestro struggles to find its emotional footing. The narrative hopscotches through Bernstein’s life like a restless butterfly, flitting from career triumphs to marital discord without ever truly landing on the flower of deeper understanding. We barely witness Bernstein’s meteoric rise as a conductor, as the electrifying birth of his groundbreaking musicals is touched on only in the slightest, and the passionate tempestuousness of his marriage to Felicia Montealegre (a luminous Carey Mulligan) is quickly brushed past. And these moments, though undeniably well-acted and staged by Cooper and his collection of actos, feel curiously detached, like beautifully framed snapshots lacking the connective tissue of lived experience.
Comparisons to other recent musical pseudo-biopic character studies are inevitable. Todd Field’s Tár lingers in the memory with its unflinching exploration of artistic obsession. Damien Chazelle’s La La Land unflinchingly embraces musical serendipity in Hollywood to the fullest extent. Even Cooper’s own A Star is Born still resonates with its raw emotional gut punches. Maestro, in contrast, feels strangely sanitized, its emotional highs muted, its conflicts smoothed over. One senses Cooper’s reverence for Bernstein, but this reverence sometimes translates into a kind of hagiography, flatlining the complexities of the man and his music.
There are, of course, undeniable moments of brilliance. Bradley Cooper himself delivers a nuanced and fully committed performance as Bernstein, capturing the man’s manic energy, intellectual fire, and vulnerability with admirable subtlety and profuse believability (despite the incredibly prosthetic nose). The black-and-white cinematography is a visual feast, and the film’s musical interludes are goosebump-inducing, reminding viewers of the sheer force of Bernstein’s genius.
While Cooper undeniably carries the film on his shoulders, anchoring it with his magnetic performance, the other true exclamation point is Carey Mulligan as his love interest-turned-wife Felicia. She transforms seamlessly across time, embodying the youthful vivacity of Bernstein’s muse to the stoic resilience of his wife battling illness. Mulligan navigates the film’s emotional tightrope with grace, portraying Felicia’s unwavering support, quiet heartbreak, and simmering frustration with vulnerability that’s nothing short of mesmerizing. In the film’s quieter moments, it’s Mulligan who holds the screen, her expressive eyes conveying volumes about Felicia’s unspoken anguish and resentment.
Reviews for Films like Maestro (2023)
There’s no doubt Carey Mulligan will garner awards attention for her performance, and rightfully so. It’s a career-defining turn, showcasing her immense range and emotional depth (perhaps her best performance since Inside Llewyn Davis nearly a decade ago). However, much like the film itself, her role feels tantalizingly underutilized. While Cooper is showered with showstopping moments, Mulligan’s brilliance is often relegated to subtle shifts in expression and fleeting glimpses of emotional turbulence. I was dying for one instance that could be used during an Oscars nomination reel. It’s a testament to her talent that she shines so brightly even with this imbalance, but one can’t help but wonder what could have been had Maestro given her the space to truly soar.
And these sparks of flawed brilliance cannot fully illuminate the film’s underlying weaknesses. The exploration of Bernstein’s sexuality, while bravely attempted, feels frustratingly superficial, relegated to fleeting glances and coded subtext. The emotional payoffs, particularly concerning Felicia’s tragic decline, never quite arrive, leaving audiences with a sense of unearned grief.
Ultimately, Maestro is a film that leaves you wanting more, not in the sense of longing for what comes next, but in the frustrating realization that the film never fully delivers on its potential. It’s a well-made, technically polished biopic praying and weeping for Oscars recognition, but one that lacks the emotional resonance and thematic depth to truly capture the soul of its subject. It’s a beautiful melody played on mute, a love letter that never quite finds its voice.
Watch Maestro on Netflix
Maestro Movie Cast and Credits
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein
Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealerge
Maya Hawke as Jamie Bernstein
Matt Bomer as David Oppenheim
Sarah Silverman as Shirley Bernstein
Director: Bradley Cooper
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Editor: Michelle Tesoro
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
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