Tivoli Theatre – After Hours Film Society Presents Maestro
March 4 @ 7:30 pm
Directed by Bradley Cooper
Featuring Casey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper & Matt Bomer
Runtime: 129 mins.
Reviewed by Mick LaSalle | San Francisco Chronicle
It’s rare enough to make a great movie, and still rarer to make two in a row. But to make two great films as one’s opening act as a director must be some kind of record.
For his debut, Bradley Cooper remade “A Star Is Born,” an enchanted film starring Lady Gaga that was the best version of that often-told story. Now, with his second effort, Cooper has given us a remarkable double biography, and one of the most searing and intimate portraits of a marriage in American film.
“Maestro,” the story of Leonard Bernstein and wife Felicia Montealegre, is, if anything, even more impressive than “A Star Is Born.” It takes place across a huge canvas, and in addition to two powerhouse performances — Cooper as Bernstein and Carey Mulligan’s Montealegre — the film shows fluidity and imagination both in the cinematography and in the scene conception.
In one scene, Bernstein and Montealegre attend a rehearsal for one of his musicals. In the next moment, they’ve entered the imaginary world of the musical. Yet somehow “Maestro” stays realistic and never loses touch with the ground.
The film begins in the black-and-white early days of Bernstein’s career, on Nov. 14, 1943, when he became an overnight sensation as an emergency substitute for conductor Bruno Walter on a New York Philharmonic radio broadcast. The young Bernstein, like the middle-aged and old Bernstein, loved being famous. Cooper plays him as a never-ending personality, a warm man with an overflowing gregariousness and a need to make everybody love him.
At a party he meets Felicia, a young actress, and their connection is immediate. Lenny has found his best audience, and Felicia is delighted and surprised by him, even as she seems to understand him inside out. Mulligan’s performance in these scenes combines the excitement of young love with a sense of grim inevitability. Not only is she in love with a gay man — or perhaps a bisexual man strongly leaning toward gay — but also a man driven by his talent, always either rushing toward it or running from it. Life with him will not be easy.
Cooper gives an astonishing interpretation that is nuanced, particular and invested, mixing geniality and gentleness with an absolute devotion to what is inside of him. He also manages to give us Bernstein’s sexuality without making it into a tragic flaw, although there’s no doubt that it’s the major flaw in his marriage.
Cooper and Mulligan play many registers of awareness. They both seem to have reflected on the era, the culture and the lives of the people they’re playing. Spontaneity in acting is essential, and there is spontaneity at work here at every moment. But this is not random spontaneity. It’s grounded in a deep understanding of what it was to be those people and live at that time.
There are no false notes in presenting the movie’s various periods, from the 1940s through the 1980s. Nobody tells Lenny to take a chill pill, and nobody says, “Hey, it’s been a minute.” “Maestro” gets the lexicon, the clothing and even the film stock right, with no anachronisms to break the illusion.
As he ages, Bernstein remains the same, only more so, while Felicia pulls back within herself. It’s fascinating to watch Mulligan, from scene to scene, slowly begin to realize that what she thought she could handle, she can’t. At one point she jumps into the swimming pool with her clothes on and sits at the bottom, as straightforward a way as any to say that she’s in over her head and drowning.
“Maestro” is a case of two extremely intelligent actors playing extremely intelligent people, who are also eminently decent and love each other, but find themselves in an impossible situation. There’s an argument scene on Thanksgiving Day in which Lenny explains his side of things, and you think, “That sounds reasonable.” And then Felicia talks, and you realize that she knows him better than he knows himself, and what she knows isn’t all that good.
“Maestro” exposes a truth about marriage that I always knew but could never quite articulate: To be truly known and understood can actually be scary.
$7.00 Members | $11.00 Non-Members
5021 Highland Avenue | Downers Grove, IL
630-968-0219 | classiccinemas.com
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