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Maestro Review: A Musical Journey Through Leonard Bernstein's Agitated Love Life

This year has been an incredible year for cinema, and on my list of long-awaited films of 2023, Bradley Cooper’s new biopic Maestro wasn’t one of my priorities. However, now that I had the chance to watch it ahead of its release on Netflix, I regret I wasn’t that excited about it.  

Maestro focuses on telling the life story of the iconic director, composer, pianist and music educator Leonard Bernstein. However, it’s not the typical biographical story because instead of narrating all his life, the film focuses mainly on the musician’s love life, as well as his professional trajectory. 

The film takes no time for formal introductions: everyone knows (or should know) who Leonard Bernstein is, so it doesn’t waste time explaining things that people can search on the internet. Instead, it transports us to a place that not many people know about or that no internet website can show us, which is his personal life.

Even though I knew who Bernstein was, I was not aware of his hectic love life. He was a man ahead of his time, not only musically, but also mentally. From the moment the story begins in the early 40s, we see that Leonard Bernstein was a man who loved people, no matter what their gender or age. So as we see him in a relationship with a man, we also witness how he quickly falls in love with a woman, the most important woman in his life: Felicia Montealegre.

During the first part of the movie, you forget you’re watching a biopic about a musical genius, and instead, you’re transported to the most cheerful and wholesome romantic movie of the year. The dialogue, the black-and-white nostalgia, the looks the characters give to each other, and the amount of love pumping out of the screen, all make you believe in true love. 

However, as the story enters its second act, now filled with color images, the love story fades away and shows the true side of Leonard Bernstein. He had a big heart with enough space to love many things. On one side, his love for music can be seen in Bradley Cooper’s amazing performance, especially in the scenes where we see him in action (conducting). On the other side, we can still see the love he has for Felicia, but also how that love is shared with other people, especially other men. 

Let’s talk about Felicia for a minute. When I sat down to watch the film, I was hoping to see a movie solely focused on Leonard Bernstein’s life. However, I was quite surprised to see that he’s not the only star of the movie and that the spotlight is equally shared between Leonard and Felicia, portrayed by Carey Mulligan.

The British actress gives one of her best performances to date, and in my opinion, one of the best of this year (and the competition was harsh!). She’s the heart of the film, and even if the movie is about Bernstein, it becomes pretty evident that she was a part of him, a very important one, and even after everything he put her after, she never left by his side. Bradley Cooper is very good, yes, but is Carey Mulligan who stands out in my opinion.

The score is from another world. Of course, most of it is original from Bernstein and since the film doesn’t dig too deep into his professional life, it’s a good way to sum it up. If you’re looking for a brief recap of Leonard Bernstein’s trajectory, Maestro is not the movie for you. I went looking for that, and at least on my side, I wasn’t let down by what I received in return. Although, it would’ve been nice to know a little more about him outside his private life, especially for the ones who are not very familiar with him.

The production and make-up team have done a great job. Even though there’s been some controversy surrounding Bernstein’s nose in the film, you end up forgetting about it. Bradley Cooper is unrecognizable, and as the characters get older, their characterization is very natural. 

I would say that Maestro is a rollercoaster of emotions, and Bradley Cooper does an amazing job at directing it. Just as Leonard Bernstein was a natural when conducting an orchestra, it feels like Bradley Cooper has the same talent for directing. There are some very interesting direction choices and a very intelligent use of color. It’s an intimate movie. It opens the door and welcomes you inside the heart of a man filled with passion and love.  

Maestro may not be the best movie of 2023, but it was a very pleasant surprise. It’s an emotional movie, and a very sad one. It’s an acting masterclass and it shows perfectly how love and emotions work. It will probably leave you with more questions than answers, but you’ll witness a powerful and incredible love story.

Photo Credit: Netflix

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