“I love music so much that it keeps me glued to life,” Leonard Bernstein (Lenny), world-renowned composer, asserts emphatically. This film pays homage to his life, but equally, highlights the blemishes, foibles, and struggles which were inherent in it. I will try to keep this review essentially “spoiler-free” such that you can appreciate the movie as much as I did. To be sure, this another gem from Netflix as evidenced by recently landing seven Oscar nominations including “Best Picture”.
Where to start? The screenplay is beautifully written with realistic, yet oftentimes depressing, dialogue. It extrapolates from actual Bernstein quotes towards crafting a story that keeps the audience captivated even though the ending is hinted at in the first three minutes of the film. By most critic’s standards, that is no easy feat with a movie-going population with a far shorter attention span than was the case in the past.
Without question, what stood out for me in this film were the acting performances, themselves. First, Bradley Cooper, who also directed the film, clearly “put his all” in making this movie and bringing Lenny to life on the screen. For example, he spent months learning how to conduct. He is outstanding in portraying this brilliant musician who was challenged with life-long, chronic depression as well as a complicated view of his own sexuality. He was not impressed by his own accomplishments, nor saw how his work had any positive impact on the world. Moreover, his depression ran so deep that he was quoted as saying that “the world was on the verge of collapse”. On a positive note, the movie fan is treated to his charming outgoing personality as he truly loved people. In short, Cooper pulls off the portrayal of this complex icon wonderfully and, as such, is enormously deserved of the “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
Lenny’s wife, Felicia, is brought back to life through Carey Mulligan’s amazing acting talents. Once again, she demonstrates her mastery of the acting craft. I was taken by her ability to convincingly “age” over the course of the film which spans over several decades. While some may imagine that being married to such a popular figure would carry with it “glitz and glamour”, it was also fraught with challenges. As Lenny’s sister tells Felicia, “There is a price to pay for being in my brother’s orbit.” The price Felicia paid was likely best illustrated in one of my favorite scenes wherein she and Lenny have an argument. (The couple’s “fight scene” is reminiscent of that in “Le Mepris” such that arguments such as these rarely have a “winner”). In any case, this “gloves-off” scene“ is juxtaposed with the sheer elation expressed by the extended family as they watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade making its way by Central Park. Movie-goers note the indelible chemistry between the two actors and likely will be reminded of how easily it is to hurt those who are the closest to us. Not surprisingly, Carey Mulligan is nominated for “Best Actress”, but unfortunately at a time when Lily Gladstone appears to already have won the award if one pays a modicum of attention to Vegas odds.
So, why did I not give this movie an A+? Two reasons. First, the trailer led me to believe that there would be a relatively balanced account of both Bernstein’s professional and personal lives. This is not the case as it is far more focused on his personal struggles and relationships. I left unsatisfied in not learning much more, historically speaking, about Bernstein, the musician. Second, the filmmakers made a conscious choice to not use on-screen titles to indicate time and place. As such, as the film moved along, I was continually asking myself, “OK, what year is this now?” and “Where are we, in this scene?” This was very distracting for me. Yes, there were clues such as the clever use of switching back-and-forth from color to black-and-white. Certainly, the costuming, cinematography, and dialogue provided additional clues, but it is up to fans to figure out the “when” and “where” on their own. I would have rather seen titles such as, “New York City, 1943” and “East Hampton, New York, 1978”.
In sum, this film is a “no-brainer must-see” for music buffs. But, far more importantly, I recommend it for a broader movie-going population who are simply keen on watching an extremely “well-made” film. Two hours well spent. Enjoy!
About The Peetimes: It was rather easy to find decent Peetimes for this movie. If you don’t want to miss any musical scenes then use the second Peetime.
|(R) Some Language and Drug Use
|Biography, Drama, History
|Carey Mulligan, Bradley Cooper, Matt Bomer
|Bradley Cooper, Josh Singer
This love story chronicles the lifelong relationship of conductor-composer Leonard Bernstein and actress Felicia Montealegre Cohn Bernstein.
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