×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Maestro’

An aspiring musician chases his Hollywood dreams under the tutelage of composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco in Adam Cushman’s modest drama.

Director:
Adam Cushman
With:
Xander Berkeley, Leo Marks, Sarah Clarke, Mackenzie Astin, William Russ, Jon Polito.
Release Date:
Feb 15, 2019

1 hour 36 minutes

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5985672/

The expert in question in “The Maestro” is famed composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (Xander Berkeley), who over the course of his career contributed to more than 200 movies, many as a “ghost composer.” Yet the real focus of Adam Cushman’s film is actually Jerry Herst (Leo Marks), an aspiring musician who in 1945 Los Angeles became one of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s students. By consigning its most interesting character to a supporting role, this amiable slice of fictionalized history loses a good deal of its heft. Nonetheless, solid direction and a charming Berkeley turn help it stave off insubstantiality, and should make it an appealing option for those interested in a pleasant alternative to big-studio fare.

Wearing dark-rimmed glasses, boasting a gray beard and hair that sticks out in slight tufts from the side of his balding head, and puffing away from his cigarette holder, the Italian-born Castelnuovo-Tedesco is introduced telling an older pupil, “If you were to have been famous, it would have happened by now.” Such no-nonsense assessments are precisely what new apprentice Herst craves, given that, following his brief WWII service, he’s abandoned his family and paramour (who waited for him during the war) to see if he has what it takes to make it in the cinema music scene. And no matter that he has a former number one pop hit to his credit, his self-doubt is mounting by the minute.

Moving into a boarding house run by crabby Mrs. Stella (Joëlle Séchaud), Herst befriends other aspiring artists while toiling away at a piano located in the establishment’s dingy basement. He also regularly visits Castelnuovo-Tedesco (who lives with his wife Clara, played by Berkeley’s real-life spouse Sarah Clarke), and it’s during these sequences that “The Maestro” shows its primary signs of life. In a prolonged zoom into closeup of the duo at the piano — a composition that will later be echoed in reverse — Cushman strives to capture the magical exchange that occurs when a teacher strikes a profound chord in a pupil, unlocking a spark of creative inspiration. It’s a quiet moment that flirts with the ineffable, and though the scene doesn’t wholly achieve its intended ends, it’s a testament to Cushman’s storytelling skills (and to Berkeley’s assured turn) that it gets as close as it does.

Unfortunately, “The Maestro’s” dedication to understatement occasionally leads to torpor. There’s very little plot or energy here, a problem compounded by Marks’ stolid performance. The film is so dramatically placid that it simply coasts along from one minor incident to another, with nary a ripple in its narrative waters. Be it Herst bringing Castelnuovo-Tedesco to a party thrown by an old friend, a dinner get-together that turns sour, or a couple of wan Old Hollywood-skewering meetings between the musicians and MGM bigwig Herbert Englehart (the late Jon Polito), the action mistakes serenity for thoughtfulness, to its detriment.

Employing a series of impressively silky long takes (courtesy of cinematographer Colton Davie) and original compositions by Lucas Elliot Eberl, as well as those authored by Castelnuovo-Tedesco himself, director Cushman crafts his material with sunlight-dappled aesthetic elegance. And even when he indulges in spinning, arm-twirling pontificating, Berkeley brings a calm soulfulness to Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Together, they may not make “The Maestro” anything close to a masterpiece, but they do elevate it into a respectable low-key tribute to the talented composer, who enlightened Herst (and, presumably, others) with the knowledge that hearing your own inner voice, and chasing your dreams, is vital, no matter where it ultimately takes you.

Film Review: 'The Maestro'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., Feb. 14, 2019. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: A Freestyle Digital Media release of a White Rabbit Pictures production, in association with Phillm Prods. Producers: Adam Cushman, David J. Phillips. Executive producer: C.V. Herst. Co-executive producers: Alexandr Merabashvili, Igor Yartsev, Marcela Mariana Sce, Linda Seligson.

Crew: Director: Adam Cushman. Screenplay: C.V. Herst. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Colton Davie. Editor: Adam Cushman, Anne Goursaud. Music: Lucas Elliot Eberl.

With: Xander Berkeley, Leo Marks, Sarah Clarke, Mackenzie Astin, William Russ, Jon Polito.

More Film

  • Nicolas Cage

    Film News Roundup: Nicolas Cage's 'Jiu Jitsu' Obtains Cyprus Support

    In today’s film news roundup, Cyprus is backing Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu”; “The Nanny” and “Amityville 1974” are moving forward; “Milk” is returning to theaters; and Garrett Hedlund’s “Burden” is getting distribution. CYPRUS REBATE Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu” has become the first international film to use Cyprus’ new tax credit-rebate program by filming entirely in [...]

  • Zhao Tao

    Zhao Tao Gets Candid in Kering's Shanghai Women in Motion Showcase Interview

    Zhao Tao is one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese art cinema thanks to her longtime collaboration with director Jia Zhangke, whom she married in 2012. From 2000’s “Platform” to last year’s “Ash is Purest White,” her work has plumbed the moral depths of modern China and brought stories of the country’s drastic change [...]

  • Skyline on the Huangpu River with

    Chinese-American Film Festival Seeks Particular Dialog

    With U.S.-China ties at an ever-sinking low, the Chinese-American Film and TV Festival on Tuesday pledged to improve communications between the two countries —  at a Chinese language-only press conference Tuesday that had few foreigners present. Most attendees who took to the stage to give congratulatory speeches that seemed more intent on heaping praise upon [...]

  • Murder Mystery

    Netflix Reveals Record-Breaking Stats for Sandler-Aniston 'Murder Mystery' Flick

    “Murder Mystery,” the latest Adam Sandler film to debut on Netflix, broke viewing records on the streaming service, the company revealed Tuesday. The film, which is co-headlined by Jennifer Aniston, was seen by close to 30.9 million households in its first 3 days, according to a tweet sent out Tuesday afternoon. 🚨ADAM SANDLER AND JENNIFER [...]

  • Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Refusing

    Writers Guild 'Plans to Respond' to Agents' Proposal as Frustration Mounts

    In a sign of increasing frustration, Hollywood agents have accused the Writers Guild of America of foot-dragging in the bitter two-month dispute. “It has become clear as more days pass that the Guild is not interested in making a deal,” said the negotiating committee for the agents in statement issued Tuesday. “Over the past year, [...]

  • Jermaine Fowler arrives at the 69th

    Jermaine Fowler to Co-Star With Eddie Murphy in 'Coming 2 America' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jermaine Fowler is set to play one of the leads opposite Eddie Murphy in Paramount’s sequel “Coming 2 America,” sources tell Variety. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is on board to direct the pic with the studio planning an August 7, 2020 release. Plot details of “Coming 2 America” are unknown, as are the [...]

  • Henry Golding attends the Fragrance Foundation

    Henry Golding Starts Long House Shingle With 'Inheritance,' 'Harrington's Greatest Hits'

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Henry Golding has started Long House Productions in partnership with China’s Starlight Cultural Entertainment Group with two features in the works. Golding’s first feature under the Long House banner is action adventure “The Inheritance,” based on an original story idea by Alistair Hudson and Golding. Hudson is writing the script for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content