Saturday, October 7, 2023

Maestro (2023) NYFF 2023

Maestro disappointed me.  Bradley Cooper’s film of the life of Leonard Bernstein that resulted from a project that began with producers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg  attempting to sit in the director’s chair is a hit or miss affair.

Not a typical biography, the film doesn’t chart the high points of Bernstein’s life, instead it charts the course of the conductor’s relationship with his wife Felicia played by Carrie Mulligan and his infidelities with the boys he met along the way.

While the film has moments, largely it’s all over the place. There is no effort to tell us when anything is happening. We have to guess based on the changes in clothes and how the characters age. We are not given any sense of when or what we are seeing is happening. Why are some of the few concerts we are witnessing taking place? We don’t know. Yes, it’s the arc of the relationship but it doesn’t always mean anything because we have no context. This didn’t bother the people I spoke with who could quote the life of Bernstein chapter and verse, but for many of the rest of us, we felt lost. And while this is the story of his relationship with his wife there is a certain point where the film simply stops even showing that, it’s just Bernstein playing with the boys and his wife fuming. The result is the film whose final third has no emotional punch.

The performances are… interesting.

Carrey Mulligan is amazing in the first half of the film, but once the relationship sours she is given little to do, with one speech coming off as bit about being lost that is delivered as if she stole  a piece from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. At other times she is simply reduced to standing and staring disapprovingly. We lose any sense of her as a person so the late in the game sequences of her dealing with cancer have little weight.

While there are times when Bradley Cooper is physically Bernstein, mostly he plays it all like a jokey burlesque. I was giggling through most of it. Only when he is conducting does he truly seems to be inhabiting the man, the rest of the time he feels like a sketch comedy version of the man. Indeed even Bernstein’s chain-smoking is portrayed her so over the top as to be from a comedy. There is only a fleeting sense of the man beyond the one that wants to bed all the cute guys. While Bernstein was an egotist he seems unmatched by Cooper’s “look at me aren’t I great” approach to the role.  To put it quite simply most of the film is Cooper chewing the scenery to make us notice him as opposed to seeing the subject of the film.

This was sooooo disappointing. I have always been a huge fan of Bernstein since I grew up watching him on TV and seeing this film just depressed me.

While not bad, it only soars in a few fleeting moments. Mostly it’s an okay biopic that never sings.

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