Oscars 2024: Love, Marriage and Queerness in Maestro

Written by director Bradley Cooper and Josh Singer, the screenplay is nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
Oscars 2024: Love, Marriage and Queerness in Maestro
Oscars 2024: Love, Marriage and Queerness in Maestro

Maestro takes leaps of both time and imagination that writer-director Bradley Cooper and co-writer Josh Singer construct with lyrical abandon and dense dialogue. Take the moment when Leonard Bernstein finds out he has to replace Bruno Walter at short notice. He is in bed, picks up the call, and the scene — the words on the page describing what the camera is doing — tracks him from his room, to the corridor, to Carnegie Hall, where the concert will take place, in one swoop. This is euphoria expressed through cinematic tools — much like when his wife Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) pulls him from a lunch table onto a stage asking him to perform his theatrical musicals that were being derided at that lunch. It is to express both her love for him and an art form that is considered lowbrow, expressed not through the certainty of words, but the reassurance of gesture. 

The thing about leaps of time is that often a screenplay has to explain what happened in the gaps left unexplored. Maestro is rather lax on that front, hoping the conversationality of the conversations will bring to life what has happened, the joys and resentments that have bubbled in the interim, especially between Leonard and Felicia, either with clarity or some knowing ambiguity. When she catches him kissing, her reaction — what she says and how she says it — clarifies this is something she has known for a while. This is not happening for the first time, this indiscretion, this queerness; or if you want to call it so, this cheating. When the writing chooses to fixate on a moment, be it the early courtship of the couple or even the later breakdown as a Thanksgiving Day parade marches on in the background, in a tense tiff of words, it allows for both the serration that comes from being hurt but also the yearning from being in love, and not being loved back enough. The slanted arithmetic of love weighs heavily, but not finally, fatally. When Felicia falls ill, it is up to Leonard to be by her, and these scenes have the quality of impending doom and a greed to yank as much from the present as possible, with the kids dancing to Shirley Ellis’s “The Clapping Song”. 

You can read our review of Maestro here.

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