Bradley Cooper’s long-gestating passion project, Maestro, has finally arrived on Netflix. The film depicts the complex relationship between legendary composer Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). After years in development, Maestro premiered to strong reviews at film festivals earlier this year and hit the streaming platform on December 20th.
Glowing Reviews For Cooper’s Directorial Effort
Critics have praised Cooper’s ambition and vision in tackling such a sprawling story about the artistic genius Bernstein. Peter Debruge at Variety called it “a tremendous directorial achievement” that avoids falling into “the traps of the paint-by-numbers biopic.”
At The New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote:
“However you respond to “Maestro,” it’s clear that Cooper poured heart and soul into the project. You feel his commitment in every striving, glorious inch of this film; you feel it especially whenever Bernstein picks up the baton and lets the music flow through his body and into ours.”
Cooper was determined to honor Bernstein’s brilliant but messy life. As he told Deadline Hollywood:
“If you’re going to do something about a human being’s life…it just felt irresponsible not to go into the complication of it.”
Years Of Preparation Pay Off For Cooper
To prepare, Cooper spent years studying Bernstein and classical music. He took conducting lessons and piano lessons to physically embody Bernstein’s mannerisms.
As The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Keegan described:
Onset, Cooper would listen to Bernstein’s recordings on an in-ear monitor, allowing the conductor’s rhythms to flow through his body, a kind of muscle memory time travel. He gestures subtly like Bernstein when he talks, cocking his head at times, raising his eyebrows for effect.
This painstaking preparation helped Cooper pull off extended conducting sequences, like the show-stopping finale concert scene shot at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Rather than cut away, Cooper chose to feature his own conducting on-camera with the orchestra.
Critics have praised the authenticity Cooper brought to Bernstein’s passion for music. As IndieWire summed up:
“Cooper seems intent on collapsing any distance between himself and his character, determined to make Bernstein’s genius feel as alive and accessible as if it were his own.”
Mulligan Delivers A “Career-Best Performance”
While Cooper anchors the film as Bernstein, critics agree his co-star Carey Mulligan steals the show as Felicia Montealegre. The role required Mulligan to play Felicia from a vivacious young actress to a mature woman battling illness.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian declared:
“Mulligan gives her career-best performance here: witty, elegant, intense, laying out Felicia’s accommodations and calculations.”
Mulligan and Cooper have a fiery chemistry that sparks the intimate love story amidst the sprawling decades-long biopic.
As Slash Film observed:
“Mulligan, especially, stands toe-to-toe with Cooper in every scene. She matches his chaos with an equal intensity.”
Controversy Over Cooper’s “Grotesque” Prosthetic Nose
The most debated creative choice in Maestro has been Cooper’s decision to wear a large prosthetic nose to resemble Bernstein more closely. Some critics have found it distracting and “grotesque.”
Justin Chang at the LA Times wrote:
“The proboscis assumption is a needless act of aesthetic self-sabotage in a film that otherwise benefits from its lead actor’s thoughtful and self-effacing transformation.”
However, prosthetic makeup artist Kazu Hiro has defended the creative choice:
“We just thought, ‘What’s the best way to make him look like Lenny?’ And we decided that the nose was one of the ways to get there.”
The debate gets at broader questions about representation in biopics – how far should actors alter their looks to mimic their real-life subjects?
As Manohla Dargis writes in The Times:
“These are knotty representational issues that have been around for about as long as movies have been trying more or less successfully to replicate the human countenance and form.”
What The Future Holds For “Maestro”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Cooper shared that his ultimate goal is telling Bernstein’s story to inspire future generations:
“I would be so happy if even one 15-year-old watches this and goes, ‘Wow, who’s that composer Bernstein guy? I’m going to check out his Fifth Symphony’…that would be the dream.”
Early reviews indicate Cooper has achieved that with Maestro – bringing renewed attention to Bernstein’s towering musical legacy.
As award season heats up, Cooper is expected to be a major player for Best Actor. As Gold Derby notes:
“The heartfelt work Cooper put into learning Bernstein’s mannerisms and conducting style could be rewarded, especially since physical transformation is catnip to the academy.”
If nominated, it would mark Cooper’s fourth acting Oscar nod after Silver Linings Playbook, American Sniper, and A Star Is Born.
With Cooper’s passion project finally unveiled, the $40 million dollar effort looks poised to earn both critical raves and fan enthusiasm. Now viewers can stream it on Netflix and experience Bradley Cooper’s ambitious artistic endeavor for themselves.
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