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Leonard Bernstein was a person. The first truly great American pianist, conductor, and composer; best known for his West Side Story contributions. In addition, he was a loving spouse to Felicia Montealegre, the Chilean-Costa Rican actress and social activist who gained notoriety for her roles in Broadway and televised dramas. The new Netflix original film Maestro focuses on just one of these sides: a lighthearted but frequently restless desire to discover the reality of a tremendously gifted man at its core.

It does so from a recollection, as Maestro opens with an aged Bernstein reflecting on his life and the time he spent with Felicia. Bradley Cooper, who plays the conductor in the film, is also the director, producer, and co-writer (along with Josh Singer). Despite occasional bursts of creative genius, Maestro’s presentation of the material is terribly flat and lifeless, with the majority of the material coming to light through dramatic revelations. I wondered and yearned for the movie to move past its pretentious and starry-eyed approach to the subject, which largely directs the audience to focus on Leonard and Felicia’s difficult marriage—but in vain.

Carey Mulligan‘s portrayal of Felicia is the only wave of life that has blood coursing through its veins. As the woman whose performance in the marriage to Leonard becomes the foundation for every other performance she will ever give on stage or screen, she is simply amazing. Mulligan brings warmth, passion, and a much-needed sense of urgency to a picture that rightfully ought to give the subject more weight than the director. The pinnacle of Maestro is undoubtedly a particularly dramatic scene in which Mulligan’s Felicia ultimately chooses to show the man the mirror, unleashing a worm of a scene that will silence him for the first time in years. “What you’re saying is a f*cking lie. Every room loses energy because of it, she growls.

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