Per Matt
For comedy fans of a certain age, The Maestro might refer to a character fond of quick-acting balms who conducts the Policeman’s Benevolent Association Orchestra, but Bradley Cooper had a different story in mind for the title. Premiering with a limited engagement in movie theaters, Maestro is a Leonard Bernstein love letter, detailing the trials and tribulations of the real-life conductor, composer, musician and music teacher.

Co-written, directed by and starring the filmmaker as the Master of Music, this one truly feels like a Bradley Cooper production, albeit one where the actor actually shaves (even though his character does appear on-screen with a beard in one scene). Having a simple truth seems to be an underlying theme throughout the picture, although in this story, Lenny only stays true to his music and nothing else — never his kids, neither his wife, nor his boy toys and he’s definitely never fully focused on one particular project at a time, which truly leaves him a bit scatterbrained and stretched out creatively.

He yearns to create something wonderful, but he always seems to get in the way of himself before making too much progress.

One of these attempts is his relationship with Felicia Montealegre Cohn (played by Carey Mulligan), whom he randomly meets at a party. Instantly smitten, the couple builds a life together — which this film focuses on — although it is definitely a difficult route for Felicia, as she’s never his top priority. Music is his life, much more than being a family man, which happens to include multiple dalliances with adoring fans, hangers-on and prospective protégées.

Lenny’s priorities always seem to be out of whack and because of that, Felicia always plays second fiddle. It seems as if the character learns early on that she’s got competition, although she seems to ignore it, as if she can simply wish it away. Sadly, this isn’t possible. In fact, the pain in Carey’s eyes is very obvious to the viewer early into the film, which is carried throughout. This knowledge seems beyond her character’s years, which she uses to her advantage. Felicia never truly tries to change him, but she also doesn’t feel the need to tolerate his lies for the rest of her life. So, why’d it actually take her 15 years to finally come to that realization?

Much of the movie is filmed in black and white — which I truly enjoyed — until the revelation arises that our main characters actually split up sometime during the ’80s. Cancer is a killer, which seems to be the only humbling moment for Lenny, ever so briefly. Our flawed hero never truly repents, which makes this not exactly a feel-good story.

Maestro. Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein (Director/Writer/Producer) in Maestro. Cr. Jason McDonald/Netflix © 2023.

Obviously, a passion project by Cooper, Netflix hopes to build an audience with this prestige picture by premiering in select theaters today (November 22nd) and later moving to the streaming service on December 20th. Full of top-notch music, an earlier controversy arose with the film’s teaser trailer, as accusations of “Jewface” criticized Cooper’s prosthetic nose, which he defended using.

“My nose is very similar to Lenny’s. So, the prosthetic is actually like a silk sheet. When he’s young, we have a prosthetic and it just moves out, so by the time he’s older, it’s the whole face. We just had to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t believe he’s a human being.”

Bernstein’s surviving children also defended the filmmaker and its use, which wasn’t entirely off-putting in the film.

With awards season in full effect, the third time might just be the charm for Carey Mulligan, who’s outstanding in Maestro. Cooper’s conducting isn’t much to write home about (which relies more on the flailing of arms, opposed to actually using proper techniques), but her performance is the glue that holds the whole thing together. It’s very easy to feel her character’s joy and pain, and tire from her character’s suffering. So much so, I’m happy to nominate her for the upcoming Music City Film Critics’ Association Film Awards and I’ll definitely be pulling for her third Academy Award nomination later this year, along with her very first statuette.

Bradley Cooper’s Maestro tells a tumultuous tale for its main characters, providing some powerhouse acting and music. Be on the lookout to find it in theaters and online. It’s a motion picture that even Bob Cobb could support.