With “Maestro” Biopic, Cooper Takes on Too Much and Not Enough

There’s a lived-in performance at the center of Bradley Cooper’s latest opus about a troubled artist, even if the film’s construction doesn’t capture its subject quite as closely or precisely as the moviemakers would like to think they do. Cooper stars in and directs Maestro (B-), a quasi-biopic about the complicated composer Leonard Bernstein, especially seen through the lens of the heterosexual love of his life and mother of his children, Costa Rican TV actress Felicia Montealegre, played with grace and charm by Carey Mulligan. The film toggles between black and white and color largely to match the chronology of its time periods, with magical monochrome origins giving way to a more murky, rusty “Hollywood in the 70s” aesthetic. The two central actors are superb, but their soapy plot and tragic trajectories don’t reveal much about them as artists. The humanity of how they bond when the stakes are highest makes for some of the most affecting sequences. The film will largely be remembered for the intimacy of several loving conversations and one bombastic sequence of the master musician conducting. Otherwise it’s caught in a kind of middle ground with impressive performances at not much service of a theme.

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