“Felicia Montealegre is the last character whom we see in Maestro, and the first actor’s name in the end credits is that of Carey Mulligan. This is her movie, and Bradley Cooper, to do him justice, knows it.
“How Mulligan can manifest such sweetness of nature without a trace of cloying, let alone mush, beats me. I spy a ghost of Julie Andrews in Mulligan’s smile, at once forgiving and brisk, and what she establishes, in Felicia, is the perfect ratio of rose to thorn. Hence the film’s best sequence, which is shot in one take, with no music and no camera movement at all. Mr. and Mrs. Bernstein talk, just the two of them, in a room overlooking Central Park West, during a Thanksgiving Day parade. The conversation stiffens into repartee, and then into rage. ‘If you’re not careful, you’re going to die a lonely old queen,’ Felicia cries.
“Behind them, through the window, we glimpse the huge head of a Snoopy floating by. Amid the Pax Americana, here is war.
“The movie does feature a death, though whose I will not reveal. Suffice to say that, in its wake, some viewers will have to be mopped up from the floor of the cinema. The looming pain is both sharpened and soothed not by Mozart or Mahler but by the sight of the Bernstein children larking around to Shirley Ellis’s ‘The Clapping Song.’ This is where Maestro scores.
“Spurning a fruitless bid at comprehensiveness, Cooper has conjured something as restless and as headlong as his subject. (‘I’m always just barely keeping up with myself,’ Bernstein once said.) To and fro we go, from the incisive bite of black-and-white, for the dawning of Bernstein’s fame, to the rich ironic glow of color in his later, grander, and less contented years; from the furious bliss of ambition to a kind of exhausted peace. And if Leonard Bernstein never got to star as Tchaikovsky in a Hollywood biopic, opposite Greta Garbo as the composer’s patron — a project that was seriously mooted in 1945 — then let us not lament too long. The guy had other things to do.”