I do not say this lightly. Netflix’s MAESTRO is an absolute masterpiece, showcasing the best filmmaking of the year. From Bradley Cooper’s stylistic direction, to Leonard Bernstein’s music providing the score to show-stopping performances from Cooper and Carey Mulligan, this film is not to be missed. MAESTRO’s intimate, emotional story grabs hold of you from the very beginning and never lets go. I was so engaged from scene to scene, it took everything in me not to burst into applause at several moments throughout. When my fellow audience members did actually applaud during the film, which is admittedly a rare occurrence mostly saved for live theater, it gave me permission to finally clap along with them.
While MAESTRO is based on the life of American conductor and composing legend Leonard Bernstein, let me assure you that you do not need to be a Bernstein or classical music aficionado to enjoy this film. Fans and strangers of the story will each find their own reasons to appreciate this film. Spanning an approximately fifty year time period, the film begins with Bernstein’s “overnight success” story as he made his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic in November 1943, after a guest conductor came down with the flu. Following the proceeding highs and lows, both in his personal and professional life, the film memorializes Bernstein’s genius while never shying away from showing Bernstein’s “controversial” moments, including his affairs with men.
But while the title MAESTRO may make you think the film is squarely about Leonard, one of my favorite parts about the story is that the emotional center of the film lies squarely with Carey Mulligan’s performance as Felicia. Cooper and writer Josh Singer never allow Leonard’s larger-than-life story to squash the legacy of this incredible woman, an artist in her own right whose stabilizing power, support, and sacrifices enabled Leonard to cultivate his genius and be the legend we know today. In the end, MAESTRO is less about Bernstein’s legacy and is more about the abiding love between this couple, which transcended Leonard’s triumphs and dalliances.
If Bradley Cooper doesn’t win an Oscar for his work in MAESTRO, I don’t know what more this man can possibly do. He directed, starred in, produced, and co-wrote this film, proving he is an auteur in the truest sense. His brilliant work in this film shows there is no sophomore slump; his directorial talent especially is among the best in the business. What he does stylistically in MAESTRO creates an exhilarating experience that continued to shock me from one scene to the next. I can’t think of any other biopic that has taken so many creative risks and leaned into the art form of filmmaking. Cooper’s seamless transitions between scenes and set pieces is masterful. And more than that, his long takes allow the scenes to breathe, tension to build, and actors to give the best performances of the year. One scene in particular, a fight between Cooper and Mulligan, will be extremely hard to beat come award season.
I have been thinking nonstop about one scene from MAESTRO ever since I saw it; it is so incredible, it is going to make you feel like you are levitating from your seat. I don’t even really need to tell you what the scene is because it is one of those that you will know when you see it because it is an absolute knock out. But humor me as I dissect the scene a little. Without giving too much away, this scene, which occurs in a church, is the crescendo of the film. It almost feels like the entire movie has been leading up to this moment, where we finally see a long, uninterrupted take of Cooper’s Bernstein in his element, conducting Mahler’s Second Symphony. The scene still gives me chills when I think about it.
MAESTRO is a maestropiece (forgive the pun but I am proud of it). No notes, no criticism, because I can’t imagine anyone would have much to critique about it. Even the makeup prosthetics, which the internet initially made fun of (and I was initially fearful to see), looked spectacular. I know this film is going to be on Netflix and I probably shouldn’t say this, but the best way to see it is in your local Dolby Atmos movie theater… or at the very least your home TV audio cranked up so loud your neighbors complain. Let the music turn you into a puddle like it did me. It will be worth it.
My Review: A+