On the Seventh Day, Bradley Cooper Created 'Maestro'
It's a Brad, Brad, Brad, Brad world.
Maestro is the new celebration of writer/director/actor Bradley Cooper from writer/director/actor Bradley Cooper. Directed by Bradley Cooper from a screenplay by Bradley Cooper and some guy who is not Bradley Cooper, Maestro stars Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bradstein, the conductor/composer perhaps best known for Bradway musicals like West Side Story and On the Town. Although detractors are likely to assert that the film is little more than Bradley Cooper lovingly fellating himself on camera for 130 minutes, those critics are indubitably just jealous of Bradley Cooper’s double-jointedness.
When we first meet Bradstein, he’s a rising star in the music world, and his only problems in life are that he’s gay and Jewish. There’s nothing he can do about being Jewish, especially because his nose gives him the appearance of a Nazi propaganda caricature. But he does convince an actress, Felicia Montealegre (Carrie Mulligan), to be his beard and mother his children so long as he keeps his homosexuality on the DL. But then he doesn’t really keep his homosexuality on the DL and he’s mean to her and she’s sad while he goes off and does cocaine with other gay men. Then she gets cancer so he goes back to being nice to her, because you shouldn’t be mean to people with cancer. That’s a drag, of course, but fortunately, she soon dies, so it’s not long before Bradstein is able to once again hit the dance floor and hook up with one of his most attractive young students (the movie doesn’t question whether or not it’s ethical for a celebrated teacher to sleep with an impressionable student, because Tár already did that, and besides, this movie is about Bradley Cooper, not accountability).
Maestro is in black and white when Bradstein is a younger guy and then when Bradstein gets a little older, it turns to color. This may be to represent the ways in which Bradstein became more complex as he advanced in age, or it may be because a clumsy PA accidentally put the camera on the wrong setting for the first few weeks of production. Fortunately, Bradley Cooper looks good in both formats.
In fact, as a filmmaker, Bradley Cooper is without ego. Maestro is not 100% a study of Bradley Cooper’s own face - it is only 50% a study of Bradley Cooper’s own face. Of course Bradley Cooper gets a lot of close-ups, and yes, the other actors are frequently framed out of these shots, and no, Bradley Cooper and editor Michelle Tesoro (Flag Day, On the Basis of Sex) only occasionally interrupt these close-ups to cut to reverse reaction shots. But one could argue that this is a reflection of Bradstein’s narcissism, not Bradley Cooper’s.
However, when Bradley Cooper isn’t filling the frame, the camera has often been placed so far away from the action that one can only assume Bradley Cooper had a restraining order against cinematographer Matthew Libatique (The Whale, Iron Man). It’s a little bit like looking at a pretty post card while listening to a radio play.
Other times, the camera is in the middle of a crowded party with people constantly blocking our view of the main actors, or it’s looking through a half-open window, or it’s behind Carrie Mulligan’s head. All of this serves to obscure Bradley Cooper, which will probably make everyone in the audience sad. But it also makes the movie appear artsy and profound, which is important if Bradley Cooper is going to get his Oscar.
And yes, I do believe Bradley Cooper will win at least one Oscar for Maestro. It just has so many of the Academy’s favorite elements: discrimination, terminal illness, beautiful actors bravely allowing themselves to look marginally less beautiful, and constant reassurance that no profession on Earth is more noble or important than working in show business. There’s a scene where Bradstein suggests that he may owe some of his success to luck, but Felicia insists it’s because of his natural talents. People this brilliant, Maestro tells us, simply do not need help rising to the top, and Bradstein, like Bradley Cooper, was ordained by God.
On a completely unrelated note, Maya Hawke, the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, plays Bradstein’s daughter.
If Maestro has any shortcomings, it’s the casting of Mulligan, who is such an incredible talent that she sometimes pulls attention away from Bradley Cooper. The saving grace is that her role is badly underwritten, so Mulligan can never fully steal the movie from Bradley Cooper.
Neither, for that matter, can Sarah Silverman, who shows up for five minutes as Bradstein’s sister in order to lend credibility to the illusion that Bradley Cooper is a Semite. Other notable actors who get the honor of standing out of frame and giving Bradley Cooper his eyeline include Matt Bomer, Michael Urie, and Miriam Shor.
Maestro does not tell you very much about Bradstein’s life before the world caught up with his brilliance, and it doesn’t offer much insight into the psychology of Bradstein. Nor is it particularly concerned with Bradstein’s creative process, or what it was about his work that so connected with people. But it does allow for Bradley Cooper to wear prosthetics and affect a voice, and Bradley Cooper is, after all, why we’re all here, is he not?