Earlier this week, Netflix released the trailer for “Maestro,” Bradley Cooper’s biopic of Leonard Bernstein, the legendary composer, conductor, and music educator.
I rarely watch trailers, because I prefer to see an entire movie without any preconceptions about what’s included. But I watched this one after reading that someone had tried to start a ridiculous brouhaha about the prosthetic nose Cooper wears as Bernstein, claiming it was antisemitic to make it so large.
Well, I watched the trailer and couldn’t disagree more. Cooper and his makeup team not only have Bernstein’s look right, he even sounds like the man I remember watching on the televised Young People’s Concerts he did with the New York Philharmonic in the 1960s. Not only did I see many of those shows when they aired live, my wife bought me a boxed set of the series for my birthday several years ago — and they’re still wonderful.
No one said a word when Charlize Theron’s nose was artificially enhanced to play Megyn Kelly in “Bombshell” (for which she was nominated for an Oscar) or when makeup artists made Theron look just like Aileen Wuornos in “Monster” (for which she won an Oscar). Gary Oldman wore nearly half his body weight in prosthetics to play Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” (another Oscar winner). I thought the oversized teeth Rami Malek wore to play Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody” looked bad, but wasn’t offended in any way (oh, yeah, he also won an Oscar).
In each case, the enhancements were effective in transforming the performer into the person. By the way, Carey Mulligan is English but uses a flawless American accent to play Bernstein’s wife, Felicia. Why is that commonly acceptable, but a facial prosthetic isn’t?
Sadly, the nose story was played up in some showbiz trades and then exploited on social media. In response, Bernstein’s children Jamie, Alexander, and Nina issued a statement saying they were included “along every step” of the making of “Maestro” and they approve of how Cooper handled the portrayal of their father:
It breaks our hearts to see any misrepresentations or misunderstandings of his efforts. It happens to be true that Leonard Bernstein had a nice, big nose. Bradley chose to use makeup to amplify his resemblance, and we’re perfectly fine with that. We’re also certain that our dad would have been fine with it as well. Any strident complaints around this issue strike us above all as disingenuous attempts to bring a successful person down a notch — a practice we observed all too often perpetrated on our own father.
Bernstein was unabashedly Semitic — and bisexual. Cooper is neither of those things, but the only limits that should be placed on actors is whether they’re talented enough to do the job. Cooper has more than proven his abilities both on-screen and behind the camera as director/co-writer of “A Star Is Born.”
That’s why I — and my big nose — look forward to seeing his “Maestro” in full when it starts streaming in December.