In Bradley Cooper’s latest directorial endeavor, the biopic “Maestro,” he brings to life the complex and contradictory world of the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, portrayed by Cooper with expansive exuberance. The film delves into Bernstein’s multifaceted personality, exploring the perpetual internal conflicts that defined him.
Cooper’s ambitious direction matches Bernstein’s own fervor, capturing the maestro’s highs and lows with gusto and showmanship. The film’s style, while potentially overbearing for some, offers much to admire, including Carey Mulligan’s standout performance as Felicia Montealegre, Bernstein’s wife, adding a layer of depth to the narrative. The heart-swelling music, a hallmark of Bernstein’s legacy, sweeps through the drama with emotional intensity.
“Maestro” adopts a nonlinear structure, presenting snapshots of life moments that span glittering career achievements to domestic tensions. Cooper maintains a zesty, kinetic energy, reflecting Bernstein’s restless essence in the storytelling. The film cleverly employs visual contrasts, such as black-and-white segments versus rich, saturated color scenes, and tight, boxy early scenes versus the wide-open opportunities of later life, mirroring the conflicting dualities within Bernstein.
One prominent duality explored in the film is Bernstein’s sexuality. While he deeply loves his wife, Felicia, portrayed by Mulligan, he openly pursues relationships with young men, highlighting the complexity of his desires. The film also delves into the conflict between Bernstein’s roles as a charismatic conductor and an introverted composer, as well as his emotional polarities, swinging between elation and despair.
Felicia emerges as a central figure in this emotional combat zone, portrayed by Mulligan as an equal partner rather than mere collateral damage. Despite enduring the challenges of a marriage that spans over 25 years, Felicia remains an active force in the narrative. A striking moment visually encapsulates the complexity of their relationship, with Felicia’s glowing presence symbolizing both her existence in Bernstein’s shadow and her role as the guiding light that steers him away from self-destructive impulses.
Amid the emotional turmoil, Cooper emphasizes Bernstein’s profound love for music, blurring the lines between his home life and the stage. The film skillfully integrates music into the narrative, using slick editing techniques to transition between rehearsals and fantasy sequences. The pinnacle is an extended sequence where Bernstein conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with a transcendent fervor, portraying a divine connection to the music. In this moment, music becomes the common ground that transcends the differences between Bernstein and Felicia, reaffirming its significance in their intertwined lives.