Maestro review: Carey Mulligan delivers the performance of her career | Hollywood - Hindustan Times
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Maestro review: Carey Mulligan delivers the performance of her career in Leonard Bernstein biopic

Dec 21, 2023 06:16 AM IST

Bradley Cooper's Maestro examines Leonard Bernstein's life through the lens of his complicated marriage to Felicia (played by Carey Mulligan).

Who was Leonard Bernstein? The first great American conductor, composer and pianist, best known for his work on West Side Story. He was also a devoted husband to Felicia Montealegre, the Chilean-Costa Rican actor and social activist famous for her performances in televised dramas to roles on and off Broadway. There's only one of these sides which the new Netflix release Maestro centers on- playfully and often restlessly yearning to arrive at the truth of a prodigiously talented man at the centre. (Also read: Leave the World Behind movie review: Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali stay alert in tense apocalyptic thriller)

Maestro released on Netflix on December 20.
Maestro released on Netflix on December 20.

Maestro is about Leonard and Felicia

Which it does from a memory- for Maestro begins with an elderly Bernstein looking back at his life, at the time spent together with Felicia. It is directed, produced, and co-written (with Josh Singer) by Bradley Cooper, who also stars in as the conductor himself. Even if there are flashes of artistic brilliance- Maestro is painfully inert and dimensionless in its presentation of the subject, mostly through dramatic revelations. I wondered and craved for the film to get past the starry-eyed and pretentious nature with which it looks at the subject, heavily guiding the viewer to look at the complicated marriage of Leonard and Felicia- but in vain.

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Carey Mulligan has never been better

The only tide of life that rushes blood in its veins is Carey Mulligan's turn as Felicia. She is truly astonishing as the woman whose performance in the marriage with Leonard becomes primary to all the other performances she will ever deliver on stage or on screen. Mulligan offers warmth, passion and a much-needed urgency in a film that clearly needs to place more importance on the subject than the filmmaker himself. In a particularly explosive scene, which is truly the highlight of Maestro, Mulligan's Felicia finally decides to show the mirror to the man, opening up a can of worms, silencing him for the first time in years. "Your truth is a f*cking lie. It sucks up the energy in every room," she hisses. This is the performance of Mulligan's career.

I was reminded of last year's Tár, which forms a bittersweet companion piece to Maestro, which took on the subject of artistic genius from a far more detached lens. That turmoil is strangely amiss here. Oscar-friendly is certainly a word that best describes Maestro, for all the grand scheme of affairs that occupies the first half of the film in era-appropriate black and white. Only one scene, just one, informs the challenges that might have come on the way of this talented man to lead an orchestra when European conductors received top billing. Leonard was Jewish, and also gay. When his boyfriend David (Matt Bomer) is introduced to Felicia in an earlier scene, there's that look of quietness that settles on his face. He will again arrive years later, where the intrigue of their relationship is ruined with a particularly tepid bit of dialogue.

Final thoughts

Matthew Libatique captures Maestro with electric effect, aided with Kevin Thompson’s brilliant production design, providing the film with radiance and spirit. The main issue with Maestro however, is that the narrative gets caught up in time, in details about his public appearance. Because of this, we are never shown the creative drive that propels him, the accomplishments that line up his career along the way. The perspective of Maestro is a big miss because we are never allowed to see the artistic genius that was Leonard, only the performance that belies at the centre of his marriage. The contradictions never land. Unfortunately, the interpretation with Leonard and Felicia being dragged off each other on stage feels indirectly judgmental of his queerness. Cooper is ferociously alive as an actor here than he has ever been, and that cathedral sequence is truly bone-chillingly great. I wished Maestro gave a little more into that introspection of genius.

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