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Movie review: ‘Maestro’

The tangled personal life of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) provides the subject matter for the fact-based drama “Maestro” (Netflix). Director, co-writer and star Bradley Cooper takes a sober approach to this sensitive topic. But his film adopts no decided moral stance, making it inappropriate for youthful viewers.

Early on in his storied career, Bernstein meets and falls for Costa Rica-born actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). She is fully aware of his many dalliances with men, and resolves to tolerate them. Yet, perhaps inevitably, Bernstein’s liaisons eventually strain their marriage.

Cooper’s script, penned with Josh Singer, seems to suggest that, as long as her husband’s extramarital activities remained casual, Montealegre was able to ignore or overlook them. Only when they took on the deeper form of an emotional bond did she feel threatened.

Bernstein’s increasing tendency toward indiscreet behavior also seems to have upset Montealegre. Amid changing social mores, Bernstein – who, in one of the movie’s most poignant scenes, denies rumors about his proclivities to his daughter, Jamie (Maya Hawke) – eventually feels comfortable making very public advances on at least one young man.

A life-threatening illness ultimately leads to the couple’s reconciliation and renewed mutual commitment. But along the way to that conclusion, Cooper’s narrative – marked by the high-energy yet brittle character of its principal subject’s personality – registers as ethically agnostic, content to show, without necessarily assessing, events.

Grown-ups well-grounded in their faith will easily be able to supply their own judgment. Still, while “Maestro” is far too subtle to be mistaken for propaganda, Cooper can perhaps be faulted for being overly elusive and for refusing to read his own tea leaves.

Thus, with the possible exception of Bernstein’s compelled lapse into hypocrisy referred to above, “Maestro” fails to provide its audience with guidance – or even clues – as to the acceptability or inappropriateness of what’s unfolding. Discernment on the part of viewers can make up for the absence of such signposts. But those lacking it would be left at a loss.

The film contains mature themes, including bisexuality and adultery, premarital and same-sex bedroom scenes, drug use, brief scatological humor, a couple of profanities, a few milder oaths, several rough terms and occasional crude and crass talk. The OSV News classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.