“It’s a great source of dissatisfaction that I haven’t created that much at all”, Leonard Bernstein confesses to his biographer. “I mean, when you add it up, it’s not a very long list”. An even shorter list is how often the creation of that work is depicted in this biopic. Apart from putting the finishing touches on ‘Mass’, Bernstein’s creative work is either mentioned in passing or confined to the soundtrack. Consequently, Maestro is not so much a celebration of the famed conductor and composer as it is a monument to its writer, director and star… Bradley Cooper.
After opening with the standard biopic trope of interviewing the subject before flashing back to depict their life, Maestro abandons convention by presenting a kaleidoscope of black and white sequences that seamlessly transition from one to the other. Told in a mostly lineal fashion, the film charts Bernstein’s relationship with Felicia Montealegre in a dazzling display that is evocative of the bliss the couple share. She assures all and sundry (including herself) that her love for Bernstein can overcome his wandering eye. Flash forward several years. Though the film's palette is no longer black and white, all colour has been drained from their relationship.
There are many exquisite moments in this film, but they tend to draw attention to themselves rather than shed any light on the subject. It provokes a kind of distancing effect that permeates the film. Quite often the viewer feels like they are almost eavesdropping on private conversations and on occasion, such as when Bernstein’s daughter asks him if the rumours are true, it is the things left unsaid that prove the most impactful. Regretfully in most instances, when the participants do have something to say, it’s not that interesting.
Maestro is undoubtedly a bravura piece of filmmaking. It’s just that it’s not very enlightening, or for that matter entertaining.
as Leonard Bernstein
as Felicia Montealegre
as Jerome Robbins
as Adolph Green
Biopic depicts Leonard and Felicia reconciling after Bernstein conducts Mahler’s second symphony at England’s Ely Cathedral. However, that concert took place in 1973, three years before the couple separated.