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MAESTRO (2023)

Release Date: 12/20/23 [Netflix]
Genre: Biography. Drama. Music.

Studio: Netflix

[Seen at BFI London Film Festival 2023]

"This love story chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein." 


They say behind every successful man is a strong woman, and Maestro is a testament to that. Maestro serves as a two-fer for Bradley Cooper, who both directs the film and stars as iconic American composer Leonard Bernstein. The film transitions from a black-and-white old Hollywood-style musical to a somber story of a struggling marriage – and a devastating cancer diagnosis. While a biopic, it chronicles less of Bernstein’s decorated career and more of his and wife Felicia’s tumultuous, decades-long love story. "Maestro" may refer to Bernstein, and Cooper is superb – but Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre carries the heart and soul of this movie to its crescendo.

Maestro is a cinematic emotional rollercoaster, boasting some of the most stunning aerial cinematography I’ve seen on screen all year. Much like the charms of Bernstein himself, the film lures in its audience with a breathtaking musical whimsy. But the honeymoon is short-lived. Leonard and Felicia’s marriage, while loving, is fraught with drama; namely Bernstein’s wandering eye and his penchant for cozying up to other men. It’s an accusation the couple’s daughter Jamie, played by Maya Hawke, finds horrifying. And when she confronts her father over the phone about the philandering rumors, he denies them – something Felicia orders him to do.

Decades of familial drama pales in comparison to what happens in the third, most emotional act of the film. Felicia, diagnosed with terminal cancer, slowly begins to fade. As friends and loved ones file into the Bernstein home to say their goodbyes in the guise of a friendly visit, Mulligan’s understated, powerful performance hits a breathtaking high. Not a dry eye in the house, as they say.

While the narrative is slightly unfocused throughout, Maestro’s strengths vastly outweigh any weakness. Cooper’s Bernstein is a solid and respectful likeness, and Mulligan’s Montealegre is, in my humble opinion, Oscar-worthy. If you can see it on the big screen, I highly recommend it. Come to Maestro for the stunning cinematography and stay for the two fabulous lead performances. Maestro will stick with you for a while.

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