Maestro begins as a beautiful love story between Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre, and then takes us on a melancholic journey through their tumultuous relationship thereafter. I suppose it’s more than just a love story; it’s a poignant tale of sacrifice and loyalty that prevented these two people from ever truly being happy together or apart. Bradley Cooper tries to dive deep into the musician’s intellectual crisis while making an artistic film that sometimes comes across as boring or simply a shell of something that could’ve been fantastic. It’s a 2-hour, 10-minute movie, and as a viewer at home, you really feel the runtime. The film goes from black and white to color, shifting from era to era, with the characters aging and seemingly growing apart. Technically, the film is quite a masterpiece, but it does seem a little less emotional than it intended to be. This doesn’t mean there aren’t moments that’ll have you reach out for Kleenex.
What Happens In The Film?
Maestro begins with the iconic phone call that completely changed Leonard’s life at age 25, when he got to conduct the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall without rehearsals. The dramatic turn of events that seemingly changed his life is only the start of his massive career ahead of him—the moment that made him go from Leonard Bernstein to Maestro Leonard. The courtship between Lenny and Felicia is mesmerizing as it plays out in black-and-white scenes that shift from them talking at a party to spending time alone in the park, finding comfort in each other. At the beginning of their encounter, when Felicia takes Lenny to a theater to rehearse a scene, she tells him that he should remember that he’s a man, and he says he always does. This is an interesting start to their relationship because it almost makes it seem as if Lenny is testing Felicia’s willingness to allow him to be himself. She’s making the statement because she’s describing how difficult it is for her to become a huge actress, while it might’ve been just slightly easier for Lenny, the man.
We see Felicia open Lenny’s world to novelty; he says he wants to do more than just conduct music. He’s a creator before all else, and throughout the movie, it seems he’s quite insecure about this fact. It’s quite clear that Lenny doesn’t want to be put in a box, not as a musician or as a man in love. This is why he could never really keep Felicia happy. There’s a moment in Maestro when Felicia says to Lenny that he doesn’t know how much he needs her, to which he replies that he has some sort of idea. This is a defining moment for them because, as time catches on to them, it’s quite evident that he does, in fact, need her, and she does too. Felicia even admits that with all her talk of being independent and fine on her own, she actually needs him (much later in the film, of course).
What Causes The Separation Between Lenny And Felicia?
In the early stages of marriage, Lenny spent a lot of time outside the house doing his musical business. Felicia, on the other hand, became more devoted to him and their three children, living a grand life while also pursuing acting when she could. There’s an instance in the film where it’s implied that maybe Felicia was simply jealous of Lenny’s achievements; she chose him while he chose the world. Interestingly, the film goes from black and white to color as the color fades away in the relationship between Felicia and Lenny. She grows tired of his affairs, and he even brings Tom Cothran home. At this point, Felicia and Lenny’s relationship is strained beyond repair. It’s never made explicit, but her jumping into a swimming pool with clothes on when Lenny was working on a song after a big fight they had about Tom could imply the moment of separation.
Lenny blames their separation on Felicia’s “futility” and claims it’s his love for people that keeps him active creatively. Maestro sometimes tries to paint Felicia in a bad light as the woman who didn’t let her husband go be free and gay or the stern one who started to dictate terms to her partner, but her reaction is quite normal, especially for the period. At some point in Maestro, Felicia forces Lenny to keep his sexual escapades a secret from their daughter. At this moment, you can really see in his eyes that all he wants is to open her eyes desperately to his lifestyle. As time progresses, though, Jamie does learn the truth about her father, even distancing herself from him for a bit.
What Brings Lenny And Felicia Back Together?
The timelines are a blur in Maestro, but after a period of separation, Felicia learns that she’s suffering from lung cancer. Lenny’s the person with her at this point. He decides to leave everything behind to comfort her during her treatment and be with her when she needs him. I suppose this is a testament to his love for her. All the hate in Felicia makes her tell Lenny earlier on that he hides under the guise of love for people because, in truth, he’s hiding all this hate in his heart, and it shows when he’s conducting. When she watches him perform after their long break, though, she tells him that there’s no hate; she’s moved by his passion. Their broken relationship is somewhat mended when Felicia is sick (as unfortunate as that sounds). Lenny spends the rest of the time that Felicia has with her and their family. This time around, they’re so good to each other. In a heartbreaking moment with Jamie, when Felicia gets mad at her for helping because she doesn’t want to feel dependent, she tells her daughter that all people need in the world is kindness. You could say this is her way of forgiving Lenny for putting her through so much because he gave her kindness when she needed it the most.
At the end of Maestro, we see Lenny go back to his flamboyant ways and meet other people (men, of course). Maybe Lenny was gay, or maybe he was bisexual, but whatever his identity, he did have love for Felicia. Maestro is a character study, yes, but not just of Lenny Bernstein but of Felicia too. One could say that it was the fact that Felicia encouraged Lenny to do everything he wanted with his music that kept him alive for the longest time. At the end of the film, he speaks about a quote that she shared with him once about “summer singing in a person.” Lenny says if it wasn’t still singing in him, he’d have long jumped into the lake. Considering the people he loved and cared for had already left him by then, it’s only their memory that could’ve kept him “singing” (so to speak). Maestro sheds some light on the ups and downs of the life of an artist and how most of the time spent under the public radar is also spent depressed. Bradley Cooper and Carey Mulligan give marvelous performances, but the film still leaves you wanting more. I suppose it’s the restriction that comes with artistic freedom and how subjective art can truly be.