Review: Maestro

Score: B+

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Matt Bomer, Maya Hawke

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rated: R

On a scene-to-scene basis, few movies this year come close to matching Maestro for cinematic wonder. But as a wholly cohesive artistic statement, it's not quite there.

For better or worse, director and star Bradley Cooper eschews the biopic template. Its first hour or so - shot in black-and-white in the Academy ratio - follows Leonard Bernstein's rise to fame and courtship of actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). There are musical numbers that start as performance, but eventually engulf the couple. And there are moments of physics-defying exuberance, captured in overhead shots, that are simply magical. It's some of the most beautiful and romantic filmmaking I've seen in some time.

Contrast that with the second half. Now in color, Cooper focuses on the decline of their marriage. The cheerfulness of the early years has turned icy. While Lenny has become the toast of the arts world, Felicia's star has dimmed. It would be a fair trade - in her mind at least - if it didn't bring out an arrogance in him, openly cheating on her and neglecting the kids. There's a darkly funny scene where the two lash out at each other profanely while the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade carries on outside their window. It's a tremendous showcase for their acting, and both will likely find themselves as Oscar nominees this year.

But while the performances - musical and otherwise - are top-notch, the script falls a little short. I felt that by the end I didn't know much more about Bernstein than I did before. Yes, he had an incredible talent and smoked too much, drank too much and cheated too much. But I never got a sense of whether this larger-than-life character was a real person. We get glimpses of it in some touching scenes when Felicia is sick with breast cancer. But his real humanity feels underexplored.

Maestro contains some of the year's best cinematography, sound, makeup and editing. They don't quite make it the film it could be, but it's still dazzling.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.