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"Maestro": A Movie Review


Blurb:  A love story that chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein, a gay man, with actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.

Starring: Carey Mulligan

Bradley Cooper

Matt Bomer

Vincenzo Amato

Greg Hildreth

Michael Urie

Brian Klugman

Nick Blaemire

Mallory Portnoy

Sarah Silverman

Directed by:  Bradley Cooper

Written by:  Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer

"Any performer, whether it's Toscanini or Tallulah Bankhead, whoever it is, lead to kind of public life. An extrovert life, if you will. It's an oversimplified word, but something like that. Where as a creative person, uh, sit alone in this great studio that you see here and writes all by himself and communicates with the world in a very private way and lives a rather grand inner life rather than a grand outer life. And if you carry around both personalities I suppose that means you become schizophrenic and that's the end of it."

~ Maestro

BEN'S REVIEW:   A stunningly beautiful movie...I was in another world watching this film.

The story starts as Leonard Bernstein, in bed with another man, finds out his career as a conductor has begun. Bernstein is in love with David Oppenheim, but then he meets aspiring actress Felicia Montealegre at a party, this beginning a lifelong relationship with her. The movie is beings in black and white and is quite simply gorgeous in every way. More gorgeous than many a full color film. Quite visionary and artistic, it's reminiscent of a musical. Interpretive. With fabulous cuts and scene changes and edits.

Maestro is a movie that tries to get in all the details right, I've been told from people who know a lot about Bernstein, but then treats his life in artistic farty tale manner. Much of the movie is told in collages paired with Bernstein's extraordinary music. Scenes flow on into another, often with silent dialog, the music telling the story. Perhaps the way it does when see a symphony in a theater or our mind's eye. And like it. we had to fill in the blanks about what wasn't being told to us directly.

I was also surprised about how nonchalantly the movie treats homosexuality. Bernstein jokes about it. He and his wife attend a party when we see men dancing together. Wasn't this a period where people could still go to jail? The scene takes place long before 1969?

About a third of the way through the movie, it switches to color, and in a way that almost reminds me of Dorothy's stepping out of her black and white world and into the color world of Oz. Could that be what Brodley Cooper was thinking when he made that choice.

Cooper is brilliant as Bernstein, completely disappearing, even his voice. Carey Mulligan shows equal talent portraying Felicia Montealegre. I would never have realized that Sarah Silverman was indeed Sarah Silverman had I not seen her on a talk show.

I don't know if I've ever seen anything quite like this movie. It was more like we were observing, in some angelic way, what was going on in the movie. There, and invisible, moving about the rooms that a scene takes place in, or through his life. That was a remarkable experience. And sometimes it was almost suffocating.

When Bernstein finds out his wife has cancer, during a time they weren't living together and which the movie doesn't really tell us why, he drops and leaves everything to be by her side.

Somehow, I am 63 years old, and I never knew Bernstein was gay. How is that? A product of how GLBTQ stories are covered up? And always have been?

I have discovered that a minor character in the movie, Tommy, was more than a sexual encounter or two, but a man that Bernstein actually left his wife for seven years for—the why of what the film brushed over—and I highly recommend you read the beautiful essay I found when you have a chance. It will give you a splinter of what happened.

I could go on longer about the movie, but about anything I say would simply be spoiling the movie. I recommend you see this movie. Right now it is streaming on Netflix. It's gorgeous and the acting is so phenomenal, and at this part of me trying to see all the nominated films in the major categories, Mr. Cooper's is by far my choice to win best actor. The rest of this uniquely made movie, you must decide.


I believe you probably know the story of Bernstein's wife Felicity's cancer, but in case you don't....

Another Spoiler Warning...!

...she does die. And the movie took the approach to let you figure that out on your own. Her last scene shows her very sick, and the next Bernstein looking out over the lake behind their home, a look of utter devastation on his face. It then switches to him meeting a young conductor, then dancing with him in a club, holding each other, and finally, dialogue returning, Bernstein being interviewed.



Warning: The following is a complete synopsis of the movie. It's nothing but spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Leonard Bernstein, at the age of nearly 70, plays a sequence on a piano from his opera A Quiet Place while being interviewed in his home. After he finishes, he shares brief details regarding the significant impact left on him by Felicia, his wife of many years, and mentions seeing her ghost.

In 1943, Leonard—then the 25-year-old assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic—makes his conducting debut at short notice when guest conductor Bruno Walter falls ill. His exceptional performance enjoys a rapturous reception from the audience and catapults him to fame. Despite being in an intermittent relationship with clarinetist David Oppenheim, he falls for aspiring actress Felicia Montealegre at a party and the two begin dating. He breaks up with David, who is heartbroken but reluctantly accepts Leonard's choice. Leonard and Felicia ultimately marry and have three children: Jamie, Alexander, and Nina. Throughout their marriage, they are seen supporting each other in their careers.

By the mid-1950s, the Bernsteins live a highly affluent life in the public eye, with Leonard having composed several successful operas and Broadway musicals, including Candide and West Side Story. Felicia combats concerns raised about Leonard's affairs with men, insistent that she holds rein over him as his wife. As the years pass, however, Leonard's dalliances—as well as his alcohol and substance abuse—take a deep toll on their marriage. These issues are compounded when Jamie hears whispers of her father's infidelity. Leonard attempts to deny the rumors as fueled by "jealousies."

One Thanksgiving, after Leonard returns home to their apartment in The Dakota late from a bender, he and Felicia have an explosive argument where she insists that he has hate in his heart, and will "die a lonely old queen" if he continues on his current path. Despite the breakdown of their relationship, the couple remains married through Leonard's composition of Mass in 1971. In 1973, Leonard conducts Mahler's Resurrection Symphony in a legendary performance at Ely Cathedral, England. Amidst the uproarious reception, Felicia reconciles with Leonard, insistent that "there's no hate in [his] heart."

Felicia is diagnosed with breast cancer which has metastasized to the lung; despite surgeries and an aggressive chemotherapy regimen, her condition deteriorates, and she dies in Leonard's arms in 1978. Overcome with grief, Leonard and the children abandon their lavish home shortly afterward. Leonard is shown once again in 1987, teaching the art of conducting and still partying, as well as having affairs with his much younger male students. Returning to the interview, Leonard admits that he misses Felicia terribly, before his mind flashes back to an image of her, back in their youth, walking into their yard.

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