“There are many things stopping me, but fear is not one of them.”Felicia Montealegre
A musician is again the subject of Bradley Cooper’s second directorial outing, a biopic of Leonard Bernstein, the first American conductor to receive international acclaim. Although Cooper plays the titular maestro, it is Carey Mulligan who receives first billing for her powerful performance as his wife, Felicia Montealegre. Cooper uses the couple to explore the multifaceted nature of humans, the complexity of forging an identity from disparate parts, and and the strain that can place on a single partner. In his career, Bernstein refuses to be constrained, retaining his Jewish surname and embracing musical theatre composition in additional to more respected orchestral fare. Montealegre provides Bernstein with understanding and support to explore all of himself but begins to feel isolated by his lack of discretion in relationships with men. Like Oppenheimer, it now seems in vogue for biopics to eschew chronology, and Maestro jumps around repeatedly, using black and white and varied aspect ratios as the primary indicator to the audience. This structure leaves the film feeling fractured, without particularly aiding the underlying themes. Cooper again collaborates with Matthew Libatique (also Darren Aranofsky’s preferred cinematographer), who dazzles early on with his black and white composition like a face shrouded in shadow, only an eye glinting in the light. Cooper’s Bernstein is expressive under Kazu Hiro’s impressive prosthetics, and he embodies duality of the extroverted performance of the conductor (“I love people so much that it’s hard for me to be alone”) and the isolated creativity of the composer.