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With A STAR IS BORN, Bradley Cooper proved that his talents extended beyond his work in front of the camera. The gritty, heartfelt and devastating drama was a smashing success, and it afforded him the freedom to explore other passion projects.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Cooper’s follow-up film MAESTRO is fueled by an exuberant and endearing enthusiasm. Once again stepping in front of the camera (as he did in A STAR IS BORN) there is absolutely no argument that he portrays legendary composer Leonard Bernstein with the utmost respect and reverence, embodying the composer in every way. From the 10,000 cigarettes he smoked a day to the charmingly cool and casual way he converses with others; you can practically feel Cooper’s admiration emanating off of the screen.  

As one of the most respected and accomplished composers in modern times, Bernstein’s legacy in both music and cinema is unparalleled. Cooper immersed himself completely into the role, not only meticulously learning Bernstein’s mannerisms, but learning how to authentically conduct a full orchestra. In these moments, you simply knew there was an Academy Award nomination on the horizon. It’s the exact type of turn that has garnered Oscar’s attention for decades.

Despite the powerhouse performance by Cooper and the jovial and handsome production value, as a character study, MAESTRO falls flat. In the end, I felt more intrigued by Cooper’s admiration than I did with Bernstein himself. While the film delved into the difficulties of a man who was forced to compromise his sexuality by attempting to project an air of acceptability, by the time the end credits began to roll, I didn’t feel like I had actually learned anything. I was no closer to understanding the complexities of a tortured soul, but I was certainly reminded of the incredible skill possessed by Cooper and his co-star Carey Mulligan.  

Mulligan, who is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, is spectacular as Bernstein’s loving-yet-tortured wife Felicia Montealegre. She understands who she is marrying and isn’t foolish enough to think she can change him. He provides her a lavish life of wonder and excitement, and as an actress, they travel in the same circles and have many of the same friends. But, as time goes on and the years wane, it becomes evermore difficult for her to play second fiddle to Bernstein’s long list of lovers. It’s obvious that the couple loves one another, but the tremendous strain begins to break down Felicia’s carefully constructed casualness. When Leonard’s dalliances start to impact the lives of their children, that’s when Felicia reaches her breaking point.  

If we only focus on the performances, MAESTRO soars. Cooper’s all-in approach makes you want to like the movie, and Mulligan’s Felicia is a complex, fascinating character who never views herself as a victim, but also knows that she is waging an inner battle that can never be won. There is no doubt that both performers have deserved the mountain of accolades that have rained down upon them during this awards season. In many ways, however, it just felt like another biopic that is heavy on style and short on substance.  Bernstein was such an accomplished, trailblazing, and complicated genius that it feels disappointing to walk away with no further insight than what I came in with.



RUN TIME: 2h 9min 

GENRE: Biography, Drama, History 

STARRING:  Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan 

DIRECTOR: Bradley Cooper

Writers:  Bradley Cooper, Josh Singer 

Now playing in theaters and streaming on Netflix

Brian Miller