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Review: Maestro. A wonderful conductor story… again

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Bradley Cooper.
  • Producers: Martin Scorsese.
  • Screenplay by: Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer.
  • Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique.
  • Music by: Leonard Bernstein.

Synopsis: biopic focused on Leonard Bernstein’s life since he meets his future wife until a few years after her death.

Shotgun Commentary: surprisingly interesting biography that would have benefited greatly from focusing on Felicia Bernstein instead of Leonard.

Felicia (Carey Mulligan) and Leonard (Bradley Cooper) sitting in a park.
Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

Review

Maestro is a biographical motion picture that tells the story of Leonard Bernstein, a renowned composer and conductor whose love for music got him to be on the top of his professions. Regrettably, this film is not as outstanding as it is marketed to be and would probably have benefited greatly from shifting its focus a little bit to break the mould.

Not exceptional

The story is quite engaging even for people uninterested in orchestras or scores. However, biographical films about conductors, fictional and real, have been around for a long time. In fact, only last year another work that fits that description was nominated for the Oscars too, Tár (Todd Field, 2022).

For this reason, the story might have profited from being told from Montealegre’s point of view. Maybe even his account of her. Then again, that last option wouldn’t have been faithful to the conductor’s ego which, according to Maestro, is a big part of his personality.

Leonard talking about himself to an interviewer.
Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

Regardless, this modification could have meant a big change for the better, especially taking into consideration Mulligan’s portrayal of Felicia Montealegre, which will be analysed later in the review.

Adult audiences

The big temporal jumps that the film makes with no explanation whatsoever stand out in terms of script. Unless you are familiar with Bernstein’s life already, you will feel the need to catch up as it goes or to assume certain missing information until you get confirmation of it.

While it is a bit pretentious to direct a movie such that no one except for a specific niche can easily follow it, it is refreshing to be challenged by a film again. Having to figure things out as they go is a wonderful feeling after so many years of being coddled and borderline babysitted by films. It keeps your mind alert and occupied in what would otherwise be just another pretty but dull story about a celebrity.

The protagonist and the star

Bradley Cooper delivers a convincing performance as Leonard Bernstein. He even has time for a little musical number that low-key reminds of Ryan Gosling in La La Land (2016). Sadly, although there are no flaws in his acting, his character fades completely into the background during part of the movie. This is no fault of Cooper’s, but more the result of Mulligan creating such an interesting character that makes the protagonist become completely irrelevant while she’s on-screen.

Leonard and Felicia talking and walking in a park.
Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

From the second Carey Mulligan hits the screen, introducing us to Felicia Montealegre, she completely steals the attention for herself. Her voice is the first characteristic that stands out. It is completely different from Mulligan’s real voice, and so much like the original Montealegre’s pitch and tone.

The development of this character is fascinating and drastic, from a naive girl to a tired old wife. She’s willing to sacrifice her life and happiness for Leonard, until experience teaches her how much suffering that really implies. The range of emotions displayed, along with her great impersonation work, put Mulligan’s Montealegre among the best performances of 2023.

Felicia watching Leonard conduct an orchestra.
Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

The look clashes with the talent

Sadly, Mulligan’s work is not matched with her characterisation. While the makeup and hairstyle departments have delivered a great work of art in Bernstein’s case, especially with his ageing process, Montealegre’s appearance is disappointing.

All characters are very realistically aged, and Montealegre’s emaciation is just as flawlessly created. Nevertheless, there is barely any visual difference between Mulligan and her character.

Felicia watching Leonard talk. Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

Contrary to Cooper for Bernstein, Mulligan doesn’t have any prosthetics on to make her look more like Felicia Montealegre. This makes it harder to associate her to a real-life person. She strikes as completely fictional because there is so much of Mulligan in her looks. Additionally, the lack of further characterisation strikes as her character not being really important in the story, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

And all that jazz

Unsurprisingly, Maestro’s best feature is the score. The use of Bernstein’s original work to accompany the film is the obvious choice. This doesn’t make it any less good, though. It gives every scene a touch of classic cinema that is further enhanced by the use of black and white during most of the footage.

Bernstein’s distinctive style differs greatly from those used nowadays, making Maestro unlike any other film made in the past years.

As for the cinematography, it is quite beautifully presented and permits the synchronisation of camera movements and action with the rhythm of the compositions. Additionally, the wild camera movements, some resembling more an Instagram travel reel than a film, make for the best transitions. They add to the characters’ movements the dynamism needed to follow the music and maintain the audience’s attention.

Leonard conducting. Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

Advice to take from this movie:

  • DON’T SMOKE
  • Don’t try to live your life pretending to be something you’re not, you’re the main victim of that deception.
  • DON’T SMOKE!!!
Leonard playing the piano with his friends. Source: Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023).

What’s your take? Have you watched Maestro yet? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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