A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
True love may waver in the way it's performed, but it never leaves. Also: It's draining to love and accept someone who doesn't love and accept themselves.
Positive Role Models
Leonard Bernstein was one of the most gifted musicians of the last century and the first American conductor to receive international acclaim. The film highlights the bisexual composer's capacity to love, and that, perhaps, he loved too much and too many. His wife, Felicia, dated and married him in 1951, with full awareness of his bisexuality. But his affairs create a divide between him and his family. Felicia is portrayed as steadfast for the sake of her children and forgiving in a way that costs her something emotionally.
Bernstein is bisexual, and his gay friends and colleagues are a constant in his orbit. The issues in his marriage come from his infidelity, not from the gender of his partners. While the movie doesn't include much reflection on society's treatment of the queer community during Bernstein's lifetime, one scene reflects a lack of acceptance that affects him. Bernstein and his wife were Jewish (they're played by non-Jewish actors Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper; Cooper also wrote and directed the film), and the bigotry faced by Jews in the 1940s and '50s is mentioned in conversation. The film has drawn some controversy over the prosthetic nose Cooper donned to play Bernstein, but Bernstein's family didn't object. Most characters are White, but Bernstein's students in the 1980s -- including a young aspiring Black queer male conductor -- are more diverse. Felicia suffers from depression and, later, cancer. She's also portrayed as a supporting character to her husband, rather than the star of her own life.
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
References to murder attempts and fantasies. Bernstein is physically affectionate, even with people he's just met, touching their faces and hair and grabbing their hands in a way that most people today would likely consider out of bounds.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Post-sex moments in which characters are implied to be naked under the covers. Bernstein is physically affectionate. He tells a baby, "I slept with both your parents!"
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Language includes "s--t," "what the hell," and "f--k."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Bernstein and wife Montealegre are chain-smokers, and nearly every scene shows him with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Extended scene of Bernstein and other musicians snorting cocaine. As the years go by, it starts to become rare to see Bernstein without a glass of alcohol.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bradley Cooper wrote, directed, and stars in Maestro, an unconventional biopic about musician Leonard Bernstein that focuses on his marriage to actress Felicia Cohn Montealegre Bernstein (Carey Mulligan). Introductions to "Lenny" and Felicia come after they're already successful, and the movie doesn't really get into the hard work that goes into forging a legendary career like Bernstein's. His bisexuality is part of the story -- as is Felicia's acceptance of it -- but the movie also doesn't really dwell on consequences of queerness in conservative, mid-century America. Bernstein's sexuality isn't what causes friction in their marriage; it's his infidelity that's the problem. There are "morning after" moments in which characters are implied to be naked under sheets, and Bernstein is physically affectionate with just about everyone, fondling hair, faces, and hands of colleagues and students in a way that most people would now likely consider out of bounds. Both Leonard and Felicia are chain-smokers, he's rarely without a drink in his hand, and there's an extended scene depicting cocaine use at a party. Strong language includes "s--t" and "f--k." The film has drawn some controversy over the prosthetic nose the non-Jewish Cooper donned to play Bernstein, who was Jewish, but Bernstein's family didn't object. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.