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Film Reviews by Lisa Blanck
| Friday, 11.17.2023, 01:31 PM |   (213 views)

One of the most astonishing things about Maestro is the seamless way Bradley Cooper has transitioned into Leonard Bernstein. The mannerisms, the intonations, the style, the prosthetics, the hair on his head …. anyone personally familiar with the great composer/conductor would be hard pressed to tell one from the other across a crowded room.  An amazing achievement, especially since Cooper was also the Director on this film. 

Maestro is a sweeping overview of Bernstein's creative genius, while simultaneously examining the intricate and sometimes sad details of his search for satisfaction in his personal life.  His wife, Felicia Montealegre Bernstein (Carey Mulligan), was a Costa Rican-Chilean actress when they met at a star-studded party.  They were instantly taken with each other, finishing each others sentences and feeding off their incandescent energy.

It was this same energy that made everyone in Bernsteins circle flock to him like moths to a flame.  And Bernstein sucked it all in, leaving everyone, including his wife, exhausted by the stress of being around his double life.

He took few pains to hide from his wife his desire for the adoration of male lovers.  She tries to accept his bisexuality, but you can see the pain it causes her, each and every time.  When the gossip starts to become common knowledge, his lifestyle begins to affect their family, especially confusing his oldest daughter, whose world revolves around her father.  Felicia begs him to not tell her the truth.  

The scene in which he must outright lie to his daughter by not revealing his truth is disturbing and painful.  In fact, it may be one of the few scenes in the movie where Bernstein comes to the revelation that by living two lives, he is hurting everyone around him.  Even though everyone in his life agrees that Bernstein is "many things at once", he is aware that his child is hurting because of his choices.

We meet some of his long and short-term male lovers, though Bernstein had many more than the movie alludes to.  Yet it must be said that his tumultuous lust for living most certainly contributed in a major way to his passionate, compelling music. You cannot separate the two.  Bernstein himself stated, "A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is the tension between the contradictory answers." The tension between notes in an orchestral piece, the tension between himself and his wife, all come to life on the screen.  

We follow Bernstein on his journey from Carneigie Hall, where he got his big break in 1943, standing in on short notice for a Royal Philharmonic live-broadcast concert.  The grin on his face when his name is announced to the seated attendees is positively radiant.  With no rehearsal, he was magnificient and received a standing ovation when the final note sounded.

Famous musical artists of the day are both namedropped and appear as featured players in the film: Jerome 'Jerry' Robbins, 'Stevie' Sondheim.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green were giving an impromptu performance at the party where Leonard and Felicia met, and so on.  We're treated to a jazz-balletic dance scene from "On The Town", where Bernsteins unabashed bisexuality becomes readily apparent to his wife. 

At times manic in his need to compose the perfect series of notes, Bernstein does credit his success to three things: luck, talent and determination.  But there's also another element, and that is the pure magic of the Leonard-Felicia bond.  When together, they are at times quite miserable, but the couple are even more bereft of joy when they are separated.  

As Bernstein's sister Shirley (Sarah Silverman) alludes, Felicia knew exactly who he is and why she stays with him.  Silverman herself is wonderful in her role; she's the same snappy, sarcastic, smart comedianne we all know and adore.  And she is absolutely devoted to her brother.

The severest critique I have of the film is the far-too extended performance in the church.  Unless you're a devotee of all things Bernstein, and I mean ALL things Bernstein, this really dragged down what is otherwise an amazing, engaging film. 

Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor and Movie Reviewer for In  Her background includes 30+ years of digital editing for WESH2 News and WKMG News.  She also edits on-air promotional spots for Matter Of Fact, the number one nationally syndicated news and information program.  For more than 30 years she has covered the Florida Film Festival and the World Peace Film Festival, with additional experience in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at MTV Networks.  She was previously a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and is a member of the Critics Association of Central Florida. 

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