A better than average biopic of Leonard Bernstein, featuring solid performances by Bradley Copper and Carey Mulligan.


Release Date: December 1, 2023
Runtime: 02:09
This love story chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.

Table of Contents

The life and marriage of conductor Leonard Bernstein is revisited in . In 1943, 25-year-old Leonard Bernstein () made his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic, setting himself to be one of the first great American conductors. Despite being a gay man, Leonard falls for Costa Rican-Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre (), a friend of his sister Shirley (). Leonard and Felicia get married and share a tumultuous relationship over the decade, the latter becoming increasingly bothered by Leonard's extramarital affairs with men.

Maestro Synopsis

Maestro is a biopic co-written, directed by, and starring Bradley Copper (A Star is Born), based on the life of Leonard Bernstein, the composer best known for writing the music for On the Waterfront and West Side Story. Taking place over a four-decade timespan, the film begins with a black-and-white 1940s film style, moving on to the muted colour of the 1970s, and finally the full widescreen colour of the 1980s. At the core of the plot is the relationship between Leonard Bernstein and his wife Felicia Montealegre.

Leonard leaves his lover David Oppenheim () to be with Felicia, with the two getting married and having three children Jamie (), Alexander (), and Nina (Alexa Swinton). However, Leonard's marriage begins to show cracks when he starts being less than discreet about his affairs with men, causing some dissension between himself and Felicia. However, despite the tribulations, Felicia will always be the love of Leonard's life.

My Thoughts of Maestro

Reportedly, Bradley Cooper was given Maestro as his sophomore directorial project, after producer Steven Spielberg saw an early cut of his 2018 remake of A Star Is Born. Moreso than the previous film, Maestro allows Cooper to show off his technical prowess as a filmmaker, particularly in the opening sequence of Leonard Bernstein joyfully entering Carnegie Hall for his first-ever conducting job. Cooper also makes frequent use of match cuts to transition between different scenes.

Of the different cinema styles, Bradley Cooper presents Maestro in, the first act of the film is the most memorable, as it looks and feels like a 1940s screwball comedy. The evolving look of Maestro acts as a signifier of the plot becoming increasingly dramatic and serious, climaxing with a major foul-mouthed argument between Leonard and Felicia. Indeed, much of the drama of Maestro deals with the fact that Leonard Bernstein was a homosexual, who frequently had affairs with men, with Felicia getting bothered when Leonard stopped being discreet about it.

There has been much controversy over Bradley Cooper's decision to wear a prosthetic nose for his performance as Leonard Bernstein. However, I thought the evolving make-up throughout the film was quite impressive, particularly the bookending scenes in the 1980s, featuring Cooper playing Bernstein in his 70s. Probably one of the more memorable moments of Maestro is the mirroring scenes of the young and later old Leonard and Felicia sitting back-to-back in a park.

As the relationship between Leonard and Felicia is the narrative focus of Maestro, Bernstein's music is literally pushed into the background, as the film is scored using his compositions. However, there is one key scene of the film, where a very sweaty Bernstein passionately conducts “Mahler's Symphony No. 2.” It is this one scene that demonstrates just has important music was to Leonard Bernstein.

Overall, Maestro ends up being a better-than-average biopic, featuring standout performances by Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan, even if one of them is buried under layers of latex.

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Trailer for Maestro

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.