Maestro | Review by: Amanda Guarragi
As a creative, there are two different versions inside you. The persona you decide to share with the world and the tortured artist that prefers to be alone. Some people use the arts as an escape. It’s a chance to become someone else while the real version of you is hidden safely away. Many do not like to feel vulnerable or exposed. So, it became vital to construct a public persona to protect themselves, especially in the 50s and 60s. Back then, everyone was kept in close circles, and everyone knew everything about everyone but never exposed or uttered one word. In Bradley Cooper’s sophomore film, Maestro, he explores the complex life and relationship of Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). Bernstein is a beloved American composer and conductor who wanted to do a little of everything. He did not want to focus on one thing because no one was ever just one thing. Bernstein believed that people were built up of many dreams and aspirations and that there was more than one side to them.
Cooper’s direction in this film is precise and experimental, and each frame is filled with care. Bernstein was a man with duality, two souls working against each other, two different people trying to live a full life. Cooper accurately portrayed Bernstein as a man with boisterous energy who was filled with love for everyone, while he carried a burden of darkness, unable to express his true self. Co-writers Cooper and Josh Singer focused on showing stark differences between people. There are conversations about being split down the middle or having multiple facets, especially when working as an artist. Cooper expressed this when he paralleled Bernstein’s conducting style and his work as a composer to his bisexuality. Bernstein’s freedom when writing musicals like On the Town and West Side Story made him express the hidden part of himself. As we learn in Maestro, when Bernstein wrote On the Town, he was in a relationship with David Oppenheim (Matt Bomer).
When he met Felicia at a party one evening, he was taken by her as an actress. Cooper and Mulligan had incredible chemistry that made their budding relationship a joy to watch. Felicia was an ambitious woman who saw that Bernstein had so much potential. She valued and loved his work, but the parallel between his heterosexuality and being taken seriously as a conductor with Felicia guiding him was clear. Throughout his career, Bernstein would go back and forth between conducting and composing and poured his heart into everything he did. The older he became, the more he struggled with who he was because he was lost in the marriage with Felicia. A part of him loved her more than anything and the way she kept him grounded. But there was the other side of him that remained unfulfilled. The pivotal moment of their relationship is when Felicia realizes who she married. Cooper’s choice to go from black and white to colour was effective because of the change in perspective from Felicia.
Again, Cooper balances both perspectives and both sides of an individual quite effortlessly in this. We see the change in Felicia and notice Bernstein changing as well. They can’t keep the facade of a happy marriage when Bernstein has relationships with men right under her nose. There is one scene where a confrontation is about to happen, and Cooper chooses to have the “Prologue” from West Side Story play to build the momentum for it. Cooper used many of his songs and also leaned into the theatrics from Bernstein’s musical theatre background. Stylistically, his direction and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique expressed the battle happening inside Bernstein and within his relationship. The editing by Michelle Tesoro was also impressive because of the jumps between time to fast-track the early days in the theatre to slowing down the pace when he was older, as he reflected on his life. Not only did Cooper embody Bernstein with his portrayal, but he became a man possessed when he conducted his orchestra. The one long take toward the end of the film is when he truly shines and cements himself as one of the best working actors of our generation.
Maestro is beautifully crafted. Cooper genuinely cared for Leonard Bernstein and wanted to explore his life in the most authentic way possible. Bernstein was under a lot of pressure because people wanted him to be one thing to label him. They even wanted him to change his name to Burns so his name didn’t sound Jewish for him to become an American conductor. Bernstein defied all odds and made sure he stayed true to who he was. He did struggle with his identity, and he repressed a lot of himself. But Felicia kept him grounded and reminded him how wonderfully talented he was. They respected and admired each other, and that made the relationship work. Mulligan is always incredible in whatever role she takes on, but what her character goes through at the end made this her best performance. Cooper making the focus of the film Bernstein and Felicia’s relationship was the way to properly explore his life, as every other aspect of Bernstein’s life bleeds through to create the conflict between them.
Review by: Amanda Guarragi
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