Maestro Movie Review
If there’s one thing worse than a biopic, it’s a biopic about a musical genius. Actually, there is one thing even worse: a biopic about a musical genius that is clearly, desperately trying to win Oscars.
“Desperation” is a good term for Bradley Cooper’s wannabe opus Maestro. Cooper directs, co-writes, and stars in the drama, which follows Leonard Bernstein from the time he’s a young conductor to old age. And while you can see how invested Cooper is in the movie, everything about it–from the direction to his acting, reeks of someone trying just a little too hard.
There are artsy, black-and-white sequences. There are shots of Cooper, whose other directorial credit is the very-good 2018 version of A Star is Born, sweating and enthusiastically waving his arms. He’s almost unrecognizable under a layer of makeup and a big nose. And, while I hate to call this out, Bernstein was gay. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it feels more like “bonus points” as Cooper hurtles anxiously toward Oscar glory.
Though there are exceptions, I’ve always struggled with biopics about musicians. Of all the fascinating people in the world who have contributed to the advancement of society, Hollywood filmmakers love to fixate on people who really don’t matter that much in the scheme of history. That’s not meant to be an insult to Bernstein or anyone else, but who cares?
In Maestro, Cooper never really gets under his character’s skin. Things happen, most of them uninteresting, but the character of Leonard Bernstein feels like the flashy center of attention–he’s the loudest guy in the room, but what else do we really learn about him? He loved his music. And was very talented. And was gay. And was married to a woman.
The one standout is Carey Mulligan, who plays his wife. Her character is complex and tortured, the pain and grief at play etched into every morsel of her performance. Mulligan’s nuanced turn stands in contrast to Cooper’s bombastic portrayal.
Maestro is a tough one to review. Many people will watch this movie and go, “wow, that was pretty good. Cooper was great.” I won’t fault them for that. But the movie, nor Cooper’s performance, won me over. It’s been a great year for movies, and Maestro’s desperation to be amongst that group sadly, ironically, is the factor that leaves it on the outside looking in.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.