How people went to watch Maestro and only came out thinking about Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose, goes beyond me. If you thought Barbie and Oppenheimer didn’t have a competition save for their own, you will be utterly wrong. Maestro is, without a doubt, Cooper’s magnum opus.
This isn’t a story of how Leonard Bernstein became. Maestro is rather an agonizing, and passionate telling of ‘Lenny’ and Felicia Bernstein, and the soulful bond the two shared. There is no notion of focusing on the many feats of Bernstein. The film, instead, is a deep dive into who Bernstein was as a man: husband, lover, and father. The film starts from the newly established Bernstein at the Carnegie Hall, and meeting Felicia soon after. The entirety of the film zeroes in on the tumultuous, but somehow enduring relationship the two had, until Felicia’s death in 1978. Also featured in Maestro is Bernstein’s sexuality and affairs while being married to Felicia – the source of the breakdown of their marriage.
Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan deliver their best performances till date in Maestro. It is difficult to focus on both the actors when they share the screen together. Cooper is unrecognizable as Bernstein, seeping into the very essence of him entirely. He effortlessly plays the renowned musician, and expertly portrays his extremely troubled conscience. Cooper leaves no stone unturned in his telling of the American Maestro. He is restless, all over the place, going off about a variety of things with everyone he meets. In his conducting sequences, it is difficult to dissociate from the fact that the man on the screen is a mere actor. Carey Mulligan is a force to be reckoned with as well. Mulligan brilliantly emotes her character’s sadness at their failing marriage, all while trying to be her best self as well. She transforms from a proud wife to being in an illusion about her eroding marriage. Mulligan breathtakingly conveys a lot of Felicia’s anguish through her silence. Yet, the only time she allows life to bend her strong reserve is when she falls chronically ill.
It is impossible to ignore Cooper’s genius as director, and the sheer dedication he has put behind the film. It shows in the technical feats in the film, as well as aesthetic ones. He experiments with fusing color and black and white sequences, as well as different aspect ratios. The most eye-catching parts include a brilliant single take sequence right at the beginning of the film, and an equally enchanting shot of a lonely Felicia in the shadow of her famous husband. Cooper also beautifully stars silence in the writing of the film, when both characters are either in pure contentment in each other’s company, or simply overwhelmed by the other’s fallacies. The detail that went on behind sketching the plot for Maestro shows wonderfully. Both Cooper and Josh Singer have to be lauded for the way they chose to piece together Maestro.
Maestro, at its core, is a troubled love story. The best part about the film is that it is raw with emotion. There is no doubling down on it – Maestro is simply, and profoundly, emotional. This aspect was also evident in Cooper’s A Star Is Born. Only filmmakers with a particular type of genius can execute what Cooper has done; the movie is nothing but pure heart. There is an easy chemistry between Mulligan and Cooper, which makes their characters’ dynamic clearly visible. Both characters turn each other’s pillars of support in crucial moments of their lives. There is that wonderful, whimsical and heady romance shown between Leonard and Felicia, in the initial years of their relationship. The second act is when the dreaminess of it all runs out, with both Bernsteins catching up with each other’s reality.
A review on Maestro cannot be complete without some nose talk. Artist Kazuhiro Tsuki, aka Kazu Hiro, has done a stellar work in physically changing Cooper to Bernstein. It is uncanny how similar Cooper’s complete look is to Leonard Bernstein, matching the latter in the times that film traverses through. Hiro is already a recipient of two Academy Awards – all the nose-shaming was surely to go in vain. His work, and Cooper’s embodiment of Bernstein deliver a seamless experience at the end of it all.
As is evident in Maestro, Cooper will not rest until he has attained perfection in the story that he helmed. Well, if not perfection, Cooper is definitely near it in this awe-inspiring movie. All of Cooper’s painstaking efforts lasting six years have come to fruition, and how. Maestro is out to make a solid place for itself in viewer’s hearts – and the odd tear or two – with its splendid story. The movie might give a run for every category Barbie and Oppenheimer are running for this awards season.
Maestro is streaming on Netflix.