Philadelphia Film Festival: Maestro

Philadelphia Film Festival: Maestro

Bradley Cooper wants an Oscar. He’s nearing Will Smith levels of desperation, but hopefully when he finally gets his prize (which I’m sure will one day occur), he won’t throw his career in the trash on the same night. Will his Oscar come as the result of Maestro? Let’s check out the particulars:

Biopic? Check!

Marginalized identity? Check!

Director doubling as lead actor? Check!

A story about Hollywood itself? Check!

The stats are looking good! An Academy Award could very well happen, and honors for acting and directing would not be undeserved. Cooper is excellent in the role and shows a vast improvement in his directing skills since his last outing, the much over-praised A Star is Born. Whereas his debut aimed to showcase his ability to competently assemble a film, Maestro is evidence of greater confidence behind the camera and a willingness to flex in terms of style. Frankly, this Cooper kid is going places.

Maestro, co-written, directed by, and starring Bradley Cooper, tells the story of the marriage between legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). This romance was complicated by a multitude of things, but foremost in this particular telling of the story is the fact that Bernstein was sexually attracted to men. This fact was not hidden within the terms of their marriage, but it certainly placed pressure on both parties both from each other and from outside forces. The script cleverly keeps words like “gay” or “bisexual” out of the characters’ mouths, instead having them only refer to Bernstein’s sexuality in unspecific terms. Despite the open communication between he and Montealegre, the coded language used between them suggests a limitation to their openness. It’s a sort of “don’t ask don’t tell” scenario, and it causes the both of them to suffer many pressures despite appearing on the surface (and one layer below the surface, for select insiders) to have an idealistic marriage.

By focusing mainly on the marriage and involving Bernstein’s life events/accomplishments only in their adjacency to it, Maestro is able to avoid many trappings of your standard biopic, despite hitting many of the same emotional buttons.

From a directing standpoint Cooper is trying on many hats, most of which fit quite well. The images dip in and out of color to indicate flashbacks, and Cooper mucks about with the aspect ratio to great effect. It’s admittedly a bit tough to track the methodology behind the aspect ratio shifts, but it is never jarring and keeps the picture feeling lively. One sequence features a spellbinding long take that captures a cocaine-era Bernstein maniacally conducting an orchestra. This bravado suggests that, despite his clear desire for awards, Cooper is the real deal. Maestro is very good, but I’m positive he’s got something great in him. It also highlights how willing the film is to be dark and unflattering towards its subject. A warts-and-all approach allows Bernstein feel human, a feat accomplished better here than in many films of its ilk.

As for the nose…well here’s how I see it: Sure, Cooper could’ve just played the role free of makeup just fine. I’m of the belief that you don’t need to look exactly like your subject in a biopic. Buuuuut if you’re gonna do old age makeup, which is essential for this script, you’re sorta roped into doing the nose. And if you’re gonna do the nose in old age makeup, then it’s also gotta be there in the younger years, where it looks a bit more gaudy. Anywho, the nose looks mostly great on screen — better than any screenshot attached to a tired thinkpiece ever could. All said, Cooper looks remarkably like Bernstein at all ages, and has clearly crafted the role with love, care, and full support of the famed composer’s family.

Midnight Meat Train 2 when, Mr. Cooper??

Directed by Bradley Cooper

Written by Bradley Cooper, Josh Singer

Starring Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman

Rated R, 129 minutes

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