Michael Caine leads the ensemble as a retired and apathetic composer and conductor (“Maestro”) who is reveling in the luxurious resort, submitting to massages, ogling nubile naked women in the spas, and spending time with his adult daughter (Rachel Weisz), who takes out on her father her pain and anguish for being jilted by her husband for a younger pop diva who “is good in bed.” (Per usual, Sorrentino has fun with various visual divertissements, from a stream of nightly European performers at the spa and an open-air concert with dairy cows and their bells, to a splashy Paloma Faith music video and extravagantly visualized dream landscapes.)
Maestro also hangs with a young Hollywood star (Paul Dano) who is prepping a role, and his close friend, a movie director (Harvey Keitel) who is conjuring up his latest cinematic “testament” with a group of young collaborators who throw around terrible ideas for how to finish the picture. (Their affectionate banter and philosophizing are the movie’s spine.) Also not in love with his script is his favorite movie star Brenda Morrell (Jane Fonda) who eventually shows up to express her dismay in person. Fonda has landed a Golden Globe nomination for her tour-de-force cameo, for which she channeled her memories of Barbara Stanwyck.
Caine is dignified, emotionally vulnerable and sad; we feel for the sacrifices he made for his art and recognize his shortcomings as a husband and father. His moving performance is playing well for the Academy, who can relate to this man’s struggle to come to terms with his work, family and what’s left of his life.
In my video interviews, Fonda explains how Sorrentino shot her scene with Harvey Keitel in one day with no rehearsal and multiple takes. When she saw the end result cut together “it kind if took me aback,” she admits. “I was a little bit surprised by it.”
And Weisz describes working with Sorrentino and Caine; both women have been moved by the vagaries of roles in Hollywood to take on producing movies on their own.