What an incredible follow-up to Cooper’s, “A Star Is Born.” Cooper has proven himself to be one of the most skilled individuals in Hollywood. The acting in his second directorial effort, “Maestro,” was astonishing. The makeup was out of this world perfect. A team of forty-six turned Bradley Cooper into Leonard Bernstein.
I can’t imagine the time it would have taken to turn the director into the beloved American conductor, composer, pianist, and educator, but they did it so well that you wouldn’t know the difference if they were in the same room together during these periods of time. You do not and will not see Bradley Cooper… ever. Stunning, Academy-award-winning work, in my opinion. You’ll see him a touch in the eyes, yes. But, as they say, the eyes are the windows to the soul, so he couldn’t be hidden completely. But nowhere else will you see him break through. His acting is that good. He also surrounds himself with a mesmerizing cast to help sell him as Bernstein and the story at large.
While performing incredibly well, the man also directed, produced and helped write the film; Bradley Cooper’s accomplishments here in showing Bernstein’s craft, abilities and artistry are awe-inspiring. You may not know who composer and humanitarian Leonard Bernstein was, but I can almost guarantee you’ve heard his name at least once. It’s mentioned in the REM song “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” but whether you did know him or not, Cooper is not Cooper here. He is Bernstein.
You’ll see Bernstein, who became Music Director of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall when the man who was the director at the time, Bruno Walter, became ill with the flu. Leonard Berstein never stopped once this happened. This is covered very well. He eventually wrote many masterpieces of music. He even helped write “West Side Story” with Stephen Sondheim, among others.
The film’s strong message is vital for our times as we seem to be going backward, not forward. It’s assumed initially that Bernstein would never be given an orchestra. It’s suggested that his name be changed to Burns so no one would know that he’s Jewish. Bernstein is also bi-sexual, seemingly in love with David Oppenheim, played by Matt Bomer (The Nice Guys). Though his feelings for David are strong, Leonard meets and marries Felicia Montealegre, who, when meeting her future husband, was a Costa Rican-Chilean actress. Felicia is played by Carey Mulligan from “Shame” and “Promising Young Woman.” Felicia works in television. She notices that David and Leonard have an extraordinarily close relationship, but she chooses to look away rather than deal with it directly. Soon, she and Leonard have children. David marries and has children, as well. Leonard moves on. He never hides his feelings for men from Felicia. She doesn’t seem to mind too much, but it finally gets to her when she sees Leonard hold his newest lover’s hand instead of hers at an event.
A great line in the film is Felicia telling Bernstein, “Fix your hair; you’re getting sloppy.” Knowing he loves people because he’s afraid of being alone, Felicia twists the knife by declaring that he’s going to “Die a lonely old queen.” There’s a scene with Cooper and Mulligan going at it, and it is created exceptionally well, with deep pain exposing itself. She no longer wants to be a beard. Well, why did she choose to be one in the first place is my question.
In the end, we see Maestro Bernstein become the wand he holds. He is the orchestra. The composer and creator physically embodies the music itself. At the film’s end, the camera pushes in on Cooper as he has been speaking with reporter John Gruen, played by Josh Hamilton (Alive, Eighth Grade) the whole time. The last words from Leonard Berstein, encircled by the smoke he’s constantly exhaling throughout the production, are, “Any questions?” Cooper knew his subject enough to know that this was the only way it could end. It is slow, but will be at the Oscar’s nonetheless.
In select theaters November 22, 2023
On Netflix December 20, 2023
DIRECTED BY: Bradley Cooper
WRITTEN BY: Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer
STARRING: Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman, Josh Hamilton, Scott Ellis, Gideon Glick, Sam Nivola, Alexa Swinton, Miriam Shor
RUN TIME: 2h 9min
GENRES: Biography, Drama, Romance, Music, Lgbtq+
PRODUCERS: Bradley Cooper, Steven Spielberg, Kristie Mackso Krieger, Fred Burner, Amy Durning, Martin Scorsese
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Carla Raij, Josh Singer, Bobby Wilhelm, Weston Middleton, Tracey Landon