Review | 'Maestro'
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‘Maestro’: I prefer to listen to Bernstein’s music

Bradley Cooper whimsically uses color and black and white to portray his life, and exotic planning to recount Bernstein’s present and past. And in the way he describes him, I fail to figure out where his appeal and genius lies

Maestro with Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan
Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper in 'Maestro.'
Carlos Boyero

History recounts many pleasing things about an exceptional character named Leonard Bernstein. Not only his transparent artistic talent as a composer and conductor, and his magnetic capacity with the public that crowded his concerts, but also his ability to encourage the younger generations to discover the greatness of classical music.

Popular tastes will always identify Bernstein with authorship of the extraordinary musical West Side Story, something that can be listened to endlessly and still move you. His sophisticated personality and his hectic existence also made him a very popular character. He belonged to the artistic elite of New York, which made him the protagonist of a story by the irreplaceable Tom Wolfe (although he has had countless cheap imitators) entitled Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s, in which he narrated with sarcasm and lucidity a dinner party that Bernstein threw at his house that brought together leading figures from the Black Panthers and a florid sector of the white intelligentsia. In screwed-up times, Bernstein did not impose the law of silence on his bisexuality, either. And it is said that neither did he do so with his various addictions. They were private hobbies that he was not obsessed with covering up.

Sooner or later the biography of this legendary and complex gentleman, who is said to have also possessed sumptuous personal charm, was bound to become movie fodder. Apparently, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese once set out to tell Bernstein’s haunting life story, but their project fell through. Both are listed as producers on Maestro, a pretentious but poorly made biopic directed by and starring Bradley Cooper. He tries to make the character fascinating, to express his creativity, to show his excessive uncertainties (he lyrically mentions a couple of times that the brightness of summer only appears in his head and his heart when his art is inspired, and that the rest inside him is almost always darkness and despair), to show his charisma in his dealings with his family and friends, and his prominence in social life.

Cooper whimsically uses color and black and white to portray his life, and exotic planning to recount Bernstein’s present and past. And in the way he describes him, I fail to figure out where his appeal and genius lies. I’m getting confused. I just don’t like him, I don’t care about him, I’m not bothered about his achievements and his failures.

And I wonder if I have experienced the same thing with the male protagonists of several of this year’s releases endowed with artistic or spectacular ambitions. All of them brought forth by what is supposedly the great American cinema. It happened with Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Killers of the Flower Moon. I didn’t understand him. Or he struck me as an unnuanced idiot. Nor was I the least bit fascinated by Ridley Scott’s linear and cruel Napoleon. And it rubbed off on this mellifluous and soft Bernstein. However, in all three films, I am awakened and replete with interest when the wives of these expendable men appear. The Osage woman in Scorsese’s film has light and enormous sadness; the Empress Josephine in Scott’s movie is intelligent, biting, sensual and bitter; and the excellent Carey Mulligan in Maestro impresses with her usual truthfulness and subtlety. When they appear, I believe it all. However, their roles are not big and absolute protagonism is exercised by their husbands. Well, something is something, but not enough to enhance the whole.


Director: Bradley Cooper.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke, Sarah Silverman. 

Genre: Biopic. USA, 2023.

Runtime: 129 minutes.

Release: In theaters now and December 20 on Netflix.

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