- Starring: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan and Matt Bomer
- Directed by: Bradley Cooper
- Rated: R
- Running time: 2 hrs 9 mins
Composer Leonard Bernstein provided the music for some great shows, including the magnificent “West Side Story,” so when I heard that Bradley Cooper was going to follow up his Oscar winning “A Star is Born” with a film about Bernstein I was really excited to see it. However, for some reason Cooper has chosen to nearly ignore the musical passions of the man to focus on the passions of the heart. That, in a nutshell, is “Maestro.”
A phone rings, waking Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) out of a sound sleep. The voice on the other end tells him the news he’s been waiting to hear. With lead conductor Artur Rodziński away, and the guest conductor falling ill, he is to conduct that afternoon’s performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. With no rehearsal. Confident, Bernstein takes up the baton. And a legend is born.
Oddly paced, but brilliantly acted, “Maestro” is a film that may take a second viewing to fully understand the story director Cooper wanted to tell. The film follows the decades-long relationship between Bernstein and his actress wife Felicia (Mulligan). Along the way there are plenty of bumps in the road, the main one being Bernstein’s infidelity with members of both sexes.
Along the way we do get brief glimpses of Bernstein’s musical genius – working on “On the Town,” mentoring young musicians, but what made him famous almost seems like an afterthought to Cooper and co-screenwriter Josh Singer. And for some reason Cooper often uses long, static shots throughout entire scenes when some film editing may have made the scenes more interesting.
On a positive note, the performances are excellent. Cooper channels Bernstein down to his voice patterns. Mulligan carries most of the emotional baggage of the film and never delivers a false note. Hopefully both actors will be remembered when Academy Award nominations are announced.
My first date with my now-wife was the film “Wedding Crashers” with a young Bradley Cooper. He has since become a favorite of my wife and when we first saw the trailer for “Maestro” I jokingly asked if Leonard Bernstein ever took his shirt off. Apparently he did. But I have also grown to respect Cooper as both an actor and a filmmaker. It borders on criminal that he did not receive an Oscar nod for his direction of “A Star is Born.” I’m not sure if he’ll get in this category this time around but I truly admire the work and research he puts into his films.
On a scale of zero to five I giver “Maestro” ★★★½