I saw Bradley Cooper‘s Maestro yesterday afternoon at Dolby 88, starting around 4 pm. 130-something minutes later I came out positively elated and humming…floating on a cloud. It’s one of the two or three best films of the year (right up there with Poor Things and The Holdovers, and may even possibly be the El Supremo), and is easily the most stylistically audacious film of the year.

It’s arty, man…fully and delightfully so. It uses “glancing, elliptical storytelling,” as a friend describes it. And, as I’ve noted, it leaves out loads of biographical material. No working on West Side Story, no composing the On the Waterfront score, no Radical Chic Black Panther party with Tom Wolfe taking notes.

Maestro is basically Scenes From An Unusual MarriageBradley Cooper‘s Leonard Bernstein and Carey Mulligan‘s Felicia Montealegre. Theirs is a real marriage as well as a kind of beard marriage with Lenny and Felicia siring and raising three happy kids under flush circmstances, but with Lenny mainly behaving like a happy gay guy, which he is outside the immediate homestead.

No miserable gay stuff, no Montgomery Clift-like conflicts. Lenny simply adores cock alongside his primary, lifelong passion for music (conducting, composing, teaching). At first Felicia is okay with this arrangement, but eventually she’s not. It starts to rankle and wound. It worsens.

Who knew how the film would play? So I went in expecting to possibly be underwhelmed or even appalled. Glenn Kenny has called it “weak tea”, after all, and there’s a male critic I won’t name who’s called it “terrible.” It’s generally been approved across the board, but it’s also fending off a small number of haters. Suffice that I sat down with guarded expectations.

So it started and almost right away I was watching a black-and-white sequence with a young Cooper bounding out of bed in 1943 and running straight into Carnegie Hall…running to the turbulent and percussive opening bars of Bernstein’s On The Waterfront score, and I was saying to myself “okay, wait…this is pretty good.”

15 or 20 minutes later I was watching a black-and-white dance rehearsal of 1945’s On The Town (three white-uniformed sailors performing vigorous ballet) and then Cooper became one of the sailors, and I was saying “hold on, this is really good.”

And around the 90-minute mark a mild-mannered writer I came with — sitting right next to me, a middle-aged straight guy, mature and not given to drinking, drug-taking or wacked emotional spillage — this dude was weeping over a scene that I won’t describe. And I’ll tell you this — before yesterday I hadn’t sat next to a weeping guy at a screening in my entire life. This means something,

So does this: If you feel as if you’re over-hearing intimate dialogue in a movie rather than listening to dialogue that’s been written and performed, you’re experiencing a different kind of film.

Plus roughly 90% of Maestro is framed within a 1.37 aspect ratio, and roughly a third or maybe 40% of that 90% is in monochrome. Only the very beginning and the very end are presented in what looked to me like a standard Academy aspect ratio (or 1.85).

I wasn’t just delighted with Maestro — I was levitating.

The first thing I did after the 4 pm screening ended was call a friend who knows the “it’s terrible” guy and suggest that he might want to think about submitting to some form of professional therapy. Then again Time critic Stephanie Zacharek is as high on Maestro as I am, I’ve been told, and right how it’s got an 84% Rotten Tomatoes rating, which is obviously pretty good.

Right now all I want to do is see Maestro again in a screening situation. I wouldn’t mind seeing it in a theatre, but Dolby 88 has an excellent sound system and I’d like to keep it on this level for a while.

Maestro will hit theatres on Wednesday, 11.22 (eyeball to eyeball with Napoleon and the 60th anniversary of JFK’s murder). It will begin streaming on Netflix just before Christmas — on Wednesday, 12.20.

Incidentally: Somewhere around the 80-minute mark the fire alarm went off — intense white strobing, a weird electronic alarm, the squawky voice of some guy announcing that something was amiss. It finally went off after five or six minutes, and then they re-wound the film to the point where the alarm had begun. Not a biggie — just a break. But it allowed Weeping Guy and I to share impressions, all of which were immensely positive.

Weeping Guy, by the way, fears that a fair percentage of Average Joe viewers are going to resist Maestro‘s unconventional narrative methodology (its seeming refusal to adhere to a classic, sequential three-act structure), but I’m telling you that the final third (or maybe the final 25%…I didn’t use a stopwatch) or the gathering dramatic force section that begins with a scene in which Bernstein lies to his daughter Jamie (Maya Hawke) about his rumored extra-marital activity and what some are referring to as the Thanksgiving Day Snoopy inflatable balloon argument scene and all that follows…I’m telling you that the final section of Maestro is devastating.

Carey Mulligan, man…she’s at the very top of Maestro‘s cast list in the credit crawl. The movie is called Maestro and the guy who ostensibly plays the lead (or at least the titular) role is listed second. Think about that. Mulligan’s performance grows and deepens and sinks in, and then it makes you fold and cry. She absolutely kills.

The identity campaign on Lily Gladstone‘s behalf might win the Best Actress Oscar, but Gladstone’s acting in Killers of the Flower Moon (not to mention the Mollie Burkhart role itself) isn’t even in the same ballpark as Mulligan’s. It’s somewhat absurd to even discuss their performances in the same breath.

Roger Friedman comment: “You can see why both Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese have their names on Maestro as producers, regardless of business deals. They know Cooper is the real thing. Netflix has their best film yet, even if it doesn’t win Best Film — Oppenheimer and Killers of the Flower Moon contain Bigger IdeasMaestro is a tour de force, with performances that will live on and on.”

Weeping Guy: “Although it seems to have a handful of detractors (who are frankly delusional), the film has been getting glowing reviews. Rhapsodic. As it should. The filmmaking is top-drawer, and the two lead performances, especially Mulligan’s, are transcendent.”