Parents' Guide to

Maestro

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Creative but uneven Bernstein biopic has smoking, drugs.

Movie R 2023 129 minutes
Maestro Movie Poster: Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 15+

Feels a bit all over the place that does not offer insight to Bernstein's craft, but some to Montealegre's gifts

I did not know what to expect. I had watched Cooper's A Star is Born and really enjoyed it. So perhaps I thought he would go in a similar-ish direction. Or perhaps it was the set-up of the biopic that made me think that the narration on this film would be different. Ultimately, I was unimpressed with Cooper's direction, although I think I know what the DP was trying for in different sweeps and scenes where there is a WHOLE LOT OF TALKING that shows off how much Cooper worked on that accent and the Bernstein mannerisms which he succeeds thoroughly and without question. Per the usual Mulligan has a strong performance, but I felt that she was being sidelined by a surrounding pretentiousness that would not let her character breathe...but perhaps that was the point of the exercise. After watching this I felt like I did not gain much insight on Bernstein as an artist, but did gain some insight that Montealegre was talented...perhaps the film should be renamed?
age 14+

Masterpiece

This is an adult movie, but teenagers who are interested in classic music or history may want to see this. It is a brilliant educational film with emotional and historical truth. I am not a big fan of biopics, but Maestro is a masterpiece. Bradley Cooper plays Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan plays his wife, Felicia Montealegre, so beautifully that we quickly forget that this is fiction, not actual footage from a documentary. Stunning sets of NYC and beautiful costumes change with the colors in the film as we move from the 1940’s to the 1980s. Bradley Cooper deserves high praise for directing and acting in this amazing biopic (He directed this movie, and also plays Lennie). Bernstein was a celebrity conductor and composer, but also an educator and public intellectual. His genius and fame made him one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century. A consummate musician, his genius spanned multiple disciplines. But his first love was music, and he loved teaching music. His television show, Young People’s Concerts, is a great example. His fame and genius extended far beyond music so it would take a 10 part mini series to cover all of this accomplishments But Cooper chose to focus this film on the interior life of Bernstein, his musical genius, and his marriage to Felicia Montealagre. Carrie Mulligan steals the show in her portrayal of Felicia, who was a Broadway and TV actress. She is a secure woman who really loves Lennie, even though she knows he is drawn to men. She helps him hide his homosexuality, so they can have a “ normal life”. But her commitment to kindness and love in an open marriage to a homosexual ( or bisexual) is tested by Lennie’s affairs with men. Bradley Cooper is at his best in embodying Bernstein, and looks remarkably like him in this film. ( Unless you know it’s Cooper, you will think you are really watching Bernstein himself ) Bernstein was a charming and charismatic narcissist, and this is really a story about the inner life of Bernstein which Cooper somehow manages to communicate to the audience thru his embodiment of Bernstein. His music is crucial to this story, because it was the emotional anchor for this amazing but conflicted man. Music allows Bernstein to express his deepest emotions, and feel something transcendent. It also allows his wife to understand him when he lost to his passions and selfishness. Bernstein wrote the music to West Side Story, which is often thought to be the greatest American musical of all time, as well as other scores for Broadway and movies. But he loved chamber music and symphonies, and helped introduce America to great European composers like Mahler. His compositions and many scenes of his passionate conducting are woven into the themes of this film. In one of the most symbolic and dreamlike scenes in the film, (and there are many others) Lenny is on stage in a sailor suit, with the cast of the show On the Town. The handsome male actors push and pull on Lenny as Felicia tries to hold onto him. Maestro does not tell Bernstein whole story—how could it when this rennnaisance man was so busy. But this is a great picture of a famous man told as a complicated love story. Bernstein alludes to his desperate longing for more than an ordinary life. The movie gives us glimpses into how his muse was often his spiritual struggles. Bernstein claimed throughout his life that he was “searching for a solution to the 20th century crisis of faith”. He was a secular Jew, but knew many rabbis, all the prayers, and could sing and read Hebrew. In his first symphony, called “Jeremiah” (1942), he challenges God, pleading for signs of love in a devastated world. It is unclear if he ever got an answer, but music was his way of wrestling with spiritual issues.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (2 ):
Kids say (2 ):

Cooper composes a creative approach to Leonard Bernstein's life story in this romantic drama. Like a great musical composition, Maestro evokes a sense of who Bernstein was and the life he lived, rather than reciting the specifics of his accomplishments and acrimony. That artistic approach, though, isn't going to appeal to everyone. The couple's highbrow word choices and the characters' Robert Altman-style tendency to talk on top of one another make your ears strain to figure out what they're saying. It's frustrating, but it also serves to create a kind of patter -- their layered lingo is a like a drumbeat.

Filmed in black and white when the Bernsteins are in the throes of love and in color when they're emotionally detaching, the movie's cinematography is gorgeous. Every shot is an art shot, so much that it almost seems to be screaming, "Look at me! Aren't you impressed? Give me an award!" On the other hand, it all falls in line with creating a work that shows us who Leonard Bernstein was: a showman with a big personality who, either personally or through his music, would grab and squeeze you and leave you thinking of him even after he let go. The problem with that is that the film was produced and authorized by the Bernstein children as a means to recognize and celebrate their mother. And while Mulligan brings Felicia's stiff upper lip and disillusionment to full glory, the movie is called Maestro, and it only reinforces Felicia as a tragic figure in Bernstein's larger-than-life story.

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