Bradley Cooper's Leonard Bernstein Biopic 'Maestro' Is Like a Bad Nose Job

Three faces of Bradley Cooper depicting Leonard Bernstein in "Maestro." In the middle image, he’s snorting coke. (CelebStoner images)

Much has been made of the prosthetic nose Bradley Cooper wears in Maestro (now streaming on Netflix) to look more like his Jewish subject, Leonard Bernstein.

It's a big one, kind of pudgy, excellent apparently to snort cocaine with, which Lenny does at a party an hour-plus into this exasperating biopic. He raises the tray over his head so his friend can do a line.

"It's raining down on me from your fucking nose," Lenny wryly comments.

Considering the controversy over the proboscis, this is a particulary appropriate line of dialogue.

The issue came up earlier this year. It's part of a discussion known as "Jewface" that focuses on non-Jews playing Jewish characters in movies and TV shows. Cooper, who directed, wrote and plays the lead in Maestro, is not Jewish. Cary Mulligan, who's his Chilean wife Felica Montealegre in the movie, is also not Jewish (nor was Montealegre).

Bradley Cooper and Cary Mulligan in "Maestro" (CelebStoner photo)

Hence the nose, which was used to look more like Bernstein's. Some think this is inappropriate, to accentuate the composer's Jewishness with a stereotypical trait. He may have had an oversized schnoz (the Yiddish word for nose), but was it really necessary to add girth? And if so, did Cooper ever look for actors with oversized noses to suit the role, or is that too much to ask? 

So many Jewish roles do go to non-Jews, like Michelle Williams and Paul Dano in last year's The Fabelmans and Helen Mirren, who also employs a prosthetic nose, in this year's Golda. Mirren contends it's "utterly legitmate" and notes Jews plays non-Jews all the time.

CelebStoner Sarah Silvermanwho plays Bernstein's sister Shirley, is the only notable Jewish face in Maestro. She's previously discussed Jewface.

Sarah Silverman as Shirley Bernstein in "Maestro" (CelebStoner photo)

Like Lenny, Shirley smokes cigarettes non-stop. Yes, people smoked like fish in the '50s, but this is ridiculous. Lenny practically blows smoke in a baby's face in one scene. There's also a lot of alcohol use but no pot.

Maestro fails on a number of levels. Lenny and Felicia are awful snobs – elite, rich, condescending. Cooper plays Lenny with a strange giddiness, as if life is one big joke and he's figured it all out. By partially submerging their Jewishness, they succeed in an America dominated by Christain beliefs. Bernstein is just so darned talented he's not to be denied. 

The prosthetic nose was added to look more like Bernstein's. Some think this is inappropriate, to accentuate the composer's Jewishness.

I'm not much of a classical music fan, so the performance of "Mass: XVII" didn't move me, despite Cooper's histrionics leading the huge orchestra and cholr in a church. But the lack of attention paid to, in my opinion Bernstein's greatest achievement, West Side Story, is strange; the "Prologue" is relegated to background music in a house scene. We also hear Lenny play a couple of notes from "Maria" on the piano. That's it.

A philanderer with mostly men, Lenny strays from Felicia, only to return later in the film when she gets ill.

Cooper has pushed the envelope over the last few years of his career, acting in and directing this and his remake of A Star Is Born. Unfortunately, Maestro is like a bad nose job.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.