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'Maestro' is obvious Oscars bait, but that doesn't make it a good movie

Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in "Maestro."
Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre in "Maestro."Jason McDonald/Netflix
  • Directed by Bradley Cooper and starring Cooper and Carey Mulligan, "Maestro" is gunning for major awards.

  • The film's story is compelling, but some over-the-top elements make its ambitions too obvious.

  • Here's why "Maestro" fails as Oscar bait.

From the opening moments of "Maestro," starring Bradley Cooper as legendary composer Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan as his long-suffering wife Felicia Montealegre, it's clear that this is a capital-F Film.

What I mean by that is that "Maestro," from the very jump, is aware of its own artistry and impact. This is not just a movie you watch for entertainment, the carefully honed performances and composed shots seem to say — this is film as the highest visual art form.

After introducing Cooper as Bernstein in his later years, wistfully playing a piano and reminiscing about his early days with Montealegre, "Maestro" transports us back to the beginning of Bernstein's career. The film accordingly changes to black-and-white, and there are several artful shots clearly meant to invoke the rapture and whimsy of Bernstein's early days as a well-known composer.

From there, "Maestro" dives deep into the relationship between Bernstein and Montealegre. And while the film isn't an altogether unenjoyable watch (Mulligan's performance in particular is incredible), it's too obviously positioning itself to be an awards season darling.

Here's why "Maestro" fails as Oscar bait.

Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in "Maestro."
Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in "Maestro."Netflix

The film doesn't let Cooper and Mulligan's performances shine

To be clear, Cooper and Mulligan are both talented actors, and watching them bring Bernstein and Montealegre's complicated love story to life is intoxicating. Mulligan especially is transcendent as Montealegre, who struggles with Bernstein's sexual relationships with men and infidelities for most of her life. A heated argument between the two in their New York City apartment while floats from Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade glide by the windows is easily one of the film's standout moments.

But too often, "Maestro" draws viewers' attention away from the compelling performances at its center. The decision to film Bernstein's early years in black-and-white, as well as some overly precious transitions from scene to scene, read more as cutesy artistic flourishes than tools that actually help the story along. Later, the makeup Cooper wears to portray the aging Bernstein becomes distracting, and borderline grotesque.

On that note, I didn't love the now-infamous fake nose Cooper wore to portray Bernstein. Some people have accused Cooper of participating in "Jewface" with the prosthetic, while other critics have argued that it's actually fine. I, personally, just felt distracted by the nose while watching "Maestro." Even though Bernstein's children defended Cooper's decision to wear the prosthetic, I didn't feel it was entirely necessary. Cooper is a skilled enough actor in his own right, and he could have brought Bernstein to life without relying on heavy makeup and fake noses.

In a way, Cooper's distracting makeup is an effective metaphor for the shortcomings of the film as a whole: "Maestro" is so obsessed with maintaining the appearance of a prestige film that it detracts from the incredible acting at the movie's center.

Cooper and Mulligan have already garnered numerous nominations for their acting, including, most recently, Oscar nods for best actor and best actress in a leading role. They aren't undeserving of any awards that come their way. Rather, I just wish the film could have let the acting speak for itself, instead of trying to gild the lily in an uncomfortably obvious bid for an Oscar.

Read the original article on Business Insider