Maestro tall film poster

See how the Oscar® nominee Maestro hits the Save the Cat! story beats.

Written by: Bradley Cooper & Josh Singer

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Genre: Buddy Love (an incomplete hero; a counterpart that makes that completion come about; a complication such as a misunderstanding, personal or ethical viewpoint, epic historical event, or the prudish disapproval of society).

Opening Image: A camera crew films the elder Leonard Bernstein (Bradley Cooper with a masterful makeup job and let’s just keep the “fake nose” controversy out of this) playing the melancholy “Postlude” from his opera “A Quiet Place” and reminiscing about his deceased wife. The scene is in color (Cooper as director uses different aspect ratios and color/black and white to signify time/relationship changes) and in true Save the Cat! form, we expect it will be the opposite in the Final Image.

Young Lenny conducts the NY Philharmonic
Lenny first takes New York by storm.

Set-Up: In a black and white, classic Hollywood picture thesis world, 25-year old “Lenny” Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic—after guest conductor Bruno Walter has fallen ill—and becomes an overnight sensation. We see the energetic wunderkind in his various roles of conductor, concert pianist, and composer working with the likes of Aaron Copland and Jerome Robbins, full of life and adored by everyone, including his lover, David Oppenheim (Matt Bomer). Meanwhile, the Chilean actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan) steps off a bus, with a dramatic swell of music signifying her arrival in the story.

Theme Stated: Bradley Cooper telegraphs the Theme in an onscreen Bernstein quote as the film begins: “A work of art does not answer questions, it provokes them; and its essential meaning is in the tension between the contradictory answers,” then underscores it in a more personal way when Lenny tells Felicia that he is “… a composite, which enables me to be many things at once… the world wants us to only be one thing and I find that deplorable.”

Carey Mulligan back to back on the grass with Bradley Cooper
Deep Love

Catalyst: Lenny and Felicia meet and fall in love.

Debate: But… it’s complicated. Lenny is gay, or bisexual, or a particular Lenny version of both, and it’s the 1940s. Lenny’s sister Shirley (Sarah Silverman) rolls her eyes at the thought of her brother sustaining a marriage and tries to fix Felicia up with Richard Hart (Tim Rogan), but Felicia yearns for Lenny. In a symbolic dance number set to Bernstein’s “Fancy Free” music, Felicia and Lenny are pulled apart, twirl back together, are separated by other lovers, and watch a muscular male ballet dancer captivate Lenny. Even when Felicia and Lenny sleep together, what exactly their relationship is, and will be, remains a question mark as Lenny expresses, “Sometimes… I just can’t seem to find myself.”

Break into Two: The lovers force an Act 2 when Felicia proposes and accepts the terms of this unusual union: “I know exactly who you are. Let’s give it a whirl.”

B Story: Lenny’s relationships with men, and with his own genius, tear at the fabric of the main love story and we wonder how long Felicia will be able to survive with all the other people and pursuits crowding her bedroom.

Fun and Games: Lenny and Felicia now live in a very specific antithesis world: a married couple with children managing their extremely public personas alongside the private arrangement of a husband allowed to have “dalliances” with other men. Lenny battles his internal bad guys as his restless inability to be “only one thing” takes him from moments of bliss with Felicia and his kids to weeping on a street corner with his ex-lover, David.

In a televised interview with Edward R. Murrow, Lenny talks about carrying around the personalities of both a creator and a performer, that any such person must be schizophrenic, and we get an image of Felicia watching from the wings as Lenny conducts, literally in his shadow.

Gideon meets Lenny
Lenny meets Tommy at the Midpoint.

Midpoint: A jarring switch to color film signifies a sea change in the Bernsteins’ relationship and a painful false defeat; at a party, Felicia sees Lenny kiss Tommy Cothran (Gideon Glick) and something snaps in her. “You’re getting sloppy,” she says in a disdainful voice.

Bad Guys Close In: Lenny’s double life is catching up to him. His beloved daughter Jamie (Maya Hawke) starts hearing rumors about her father’s sexuality and Felicia forbids Lenny to tell her the whole story, leading to a conversation with Jamie full of anguished pauses and unspoken truths. When Lenny announces the completion of his masterpiece, “Mass,” Felicia jumps into the pool and sinks to the bottom—between Lenny’s affairs and his work, there’s so little of him left and Felicia feels that she is literally disappearing.

All Is Lost: With the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons floating outside their window, Lenny and Felicia have a vicious argument that culminates in Felicia warning him, “If you’re not careful, you’ll end up a lonely old queen.” Lenny and Felicia separate, leading to Lenny doing coke, sleeping around, and lecturing his students about having “absolute freedom”; Felicia throws herself into her work and tries to date, but a man she thinks has a crush on her actually wants her to introduce him to a male friend of hers.

Dark Night of the Soul: While Felicia confesses her dark secret to Shirley, “It was my own arrogance. To think I could survive on what he could give,” Lenny breaks down in a phone conversation with Jamie, longing for his family.

Lenny conducts at the Ely Cathedral
Lenny builds to the emotional reunion with Felicia at the Break into Three

Break into Three: After an incredible 6-minute scene (filmed in one continuous take) of Bernstein conducting Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony at Ely Cathedral, he and Felicia tearfully reunite.

Finale: Lenny and Felicia’s synthesis world takes a painful turn when Felicia is diagnosed with breast cancer. Lenny gathers the team, their family, and executes the new plan: to put Felicia at the very center of his world for as long as he is able. He stays off the road, refuses work, and remains at her side, speaking words of love, until her death.

Final Image: After a callback to the Opening Image, in color, of the elder Bernstein being interviewed, the Final Image switches back to black and white as the gorgeous “Chichester Psalms II” plays under a romantic shot of Felicia as a beautiful young woman, looking at Lenny with deep love. But Cooper doesn’t leave us on a full Hollywood happy-ending note; Felicia turns away from the camera and the closing titles play over the back of her head, a poignant conclusion to a complex and bittersweet tale.