Maestro (Bradley Cooper, 2023, USA)

Maestro is the latest feature from director/actor Bradley Cooper. Cooper's rise from actor in fratboy comedies to director of serious cinema is something to be admired, even if one doesn't enjoy his films. Maestro is a biopic of American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein - played by Cooper. Cooper's transformation into Bernstein (while the source of some controversy) is fantastic, and the makeup effects are truly one of the stars here. His portrayal of Bernstein in his older age is particularly effective, looking very true to life without falling into the trap of being too distracting or artificial.

Maestro is not a conventional biopic, instead tracing impressions of various episodes in Bernstein's life. Early vignettes are told in black and white, while later vignettes are shown in color. Acting alongside Cooper is Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein's wife. While the marketing for Maestro has largely presented the film as a two-hander, Mulligan is certainly a supporting role, and she is mostly relegated to the role of the long-suffering wife. Bernstein was quite known for his extramarital gay dalliances, and much of the film is an attempt to view his personal life. Fans of Bernstein's music may find quite little here to get excited about, save for one extended scene with Cooper conducting that is truly the highlight of the film.

Maestro is a bit muddled - while it is often gorgeous to behold, it is not a masterpiece by any stretch. Mixed critical and audience reactions haven't put a dent in Netflix's efforts to promote the film with the Academy - it is, after all, their main awards push this year. Maestro is underwhelming as a whole, though it is quite magnificent in parts. Hopefully, Cooper uses this as a learning experience and is able to channel it into future films.



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