by Nancy Kriparos
Later that day I saw a screening of Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles starring Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin and introducing Christian McKay in a career making performance as Orson Welles. Efron, Linklater and McKay were present at the screening and introduced the film and then later Linklater and McKay stayed for a Q & A. This is a wonderful film that reminds us of the genius that was Orson Welles. Efron plays teenager Richard Samuels who is hired as a bit player by Welles for his new Mercury theatre troupe where they are mounting a production of Julius Caesar. Samuels is dazzled by Welles but also falls for the Welles’ Girl Friday, Sonja(Danes). The performances are very good in this. Efron displays much more range and maturity as an actor then his previous efforts. McKay is extraordinary as Welles. He brilliantly captures the essence of Welles as this charming, bigger than life, yet flawed genius.
At the Q & A that followed I asked Mr. McKay about his preparation for the role. McKay read all of the biographies on Welles as well as listened to all of his performances on radio and watched all of his films. The director was asked about the process in making the film. Linklater had purchased the rights to the book and then went on the crucial search for someone to play Welles. Coincidentally, McKay was doing a one man show in New York about Welles and Linklater went to see it. Linklater subsequently invited McKay for some screen tests and upon deciding he had found his Welles remarked to McKay, “Lets now find some stars for you to play with”. Linklater was always fascinated about Welles and doing the film about Welles at the beginning of his career seemed very interesting. The director also said the film also fulfilled a dream to do Shakespeare on film, without doing an entire film.
Me and Orson Welles
I liked this film as much as I could probably have liked any period piece about the story of a high school kid and Orson Welles putting on a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in 1930's Manhattan.
Directed by Richard Linklater, the film is well crafted although I found the ending a little heavy on the fromage. Christian McKay is the real relevation here and delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the mercurial and bombastic Welles. Almost so that Claire Danes and Zac Efron seem merely along for the ride.
Post screening, with a packed house at the Ryerson (again), the director and actors were subject to a somewhat embarrassing Q&A as teen girls insisted on asking Efron a series of lame questions (he replied with lame answers) and asked Danes to reminisce about her experience on My So Called Life. -TS
by Ruth Rankin
Me and Orson Welles opened at Ryerson theater today. As I was standing in line, you could feel the excited energy of the teenage girls waiting to catch a glimpse of teen heartthrob, Zac Efron. As he took the red carpet, the shrill shrieks started. Granted there weren't too many, but still enough to make your eardrums bleed. Claire Danes also starred in the film and took the red carpet right before Zac did, but didn't have quite as boisterous reception.
Now to the film, Me and Orson Welles was directed by Richard Linklater, the same man who brought us Dazed and Confused and School of Rock. It was based on the play by Robert Kaplow and tells the story of a young man coming to New York to act and how he gets involved with Welles' theater group at the Mercury theater and their production of Julius Caesar in 1937- a little bit different subject matter than his past films. I have to say I wasn't really sure going into this film as to whether this cast could pull off the movie. First, the unknown actor, Christian McKay playing the literally larger than life character of Orson Welles, and then Zac Efron being cast in this non-musical/ non-Disney movie - both questionable.
But I admit, there was nothing to be skeptical about. Christian McKay gave a brilliant performance full of wit and charisma and Zac Efron's new kid in the city was incredibly charming and believable - he can really act!. Richard Samuels (Efron) comes to the big city to live out his dream. He is the typical wide eyed, optimistic youth ready to take the world by storm. He accidentally encounters Welles on the street, and charms his way into being cast in his Julius Caesar production in a minor role. Richard soon finds out that the theater world isn't quite what he thought it would be, but then again neither is Welles; he can be inspiring and encouraging one moment and tear you to pieces the next.
The play seems to be a disaster: Welles is never on time, he's completely self involved and impossible to work with, but his sycophants will endure any punishment to be associated a Welles production. Richard has a bit of idol worship going on for Welles, but soon understands that Welles in really only interested in himself and his visions of grandeur. Richard of course falls for the company hottie, Sonja Jones (Danes), the secretary. But she is only interested in how to further her career, and sleeps with anyone to make it, (including Welles) breaking Richard's heart in the process. This leads to the big conflict between Welles and Richard, in which Richard wants a little respect and Welles concedes on the terms that Richard goes on stage for opening night. The show has an amazing opening with rave reviews, but after the the curtain falls, Richard is fired and realizes that no one can contradict Welles without suffering in the end.
The movie had humor and heart, supplied by the two leading men. The sets and costumes were incredible, and the soundtrack was awesome. New York looked decadent in its art deco glory and the big band music really gave you a feel for the era. Overall, Me and Orson Welles was a delight to watch.
by Dan Dickinson
When the line for Me And Orson Welles (tiff) started to move into the theatre and abruptly stopped for ten minutes, I knew what was happening: the stars had arrived. At the Ryerson the line crosses the red carpet, so when the limos pull up they stop the line and let the celebrity masturbation start.
I was well back in the line and didn’t see the arrival or star-walk down the media phalanx, but as I got closer I could hear it. I didn’t stop to see who it was all the teenage-girl shrieking was for, and I couldn’t remember who was in this movie except for Claire Danes, so it wasn’t until I got into a seat and checked the cast list that I realized who it was.
Zac Efron. Of High School Musical fame. Oh, splendid.
Right after I figured this out two girls in their late teens — maybe even early twenties — sit behind me and start gushing. “Ohmigod ohmigod ohmigod…he is, like, SO famous!!!” And so on. I’m thankful that there were more film fans than Efron fans in the theatre, since when director Richard Linklater was introduced, he got the biggest round of applause of the day (followed by Mr. Efron when he took the stage). Finally the film began.
The film was really quite good. It was set in New York in the 30s, and the first time on the big screen for the actor playing Welles, who did a great job. I actually felt a little bit sorry for Efron, since he just couldn’t keep up with the actors around him, but it didn’t ruin the film. I had to give Linklater credit for taking on a project like this, working from a book that seems awfully far from his usual work.
The Q&A afterward was an embarrassing string of questions to Efron from swooning girls (like the 12-year-old in front of me who pouted and practically beat her mother bruised when neither of them could get their camera working well enough to capture Zac’s dreaminess) and someone even asked Claire Danes about My So Called Life? Tragic. I left the theatre hoping to escape the swooning. Clearly I’d forgotten what I was seeing next.
Me and Orson Welles tells the story of a young teenager who wants to go into the theater and finally gets his chance with Orson Welles's production of Julius Ceaser but the film is about so much more than that. It is a portrait of a man who is witty and brilliant but sometimes cruel also (he cheats on his pregnant wife). It is sometimes nostalgic (references to The New Yorker, Richard Rogers and much more) and is in many ways the best film I have ever seen about the theater. Me and Orson Welles was a movie that surpassed every expectation I had. It is a film that can be furiously funny, unbelievably acted and as unbelievable an experience as actually seeing the production of Julius Ceaser would be. The film despite being set in the 1930's feels fresh and new. The cast of the film is wonderful. Zac Efron gives the type of performance that shows that yes he can act and not have his role be all about singing (although he does sing twice in the movie). Claire Danes does a great performance that feels right out of the style of the 1930's ingenue. But the best actor in the film is the one you haven't heard of. Christian McKay gives a performance that is so great, it is on par I would guess with even Welles's best work. The direction of the film by Richard Linklator is his best work on film yet. It was simply a great film. During the Q and A, the last question asked was simply "How Will You Top That?". How indeed.
But I Don't Want a Blog
First screening of the festival last night at the Ryerson for the world premiere of Me and Orson Welles. The film was directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunset and School of Rock) and stars Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin and the fantastic newcomer Christian McKay as Orson Welles.
The story takes place over a week in 1937 and centers around a young actor (Efron) who gets a shot at a small role in the broadway production of Ceasar and gets pulled into the politics and backstage antics of the theatre troupe. It's based on the historical fiction novel written by Robert Kaplow and I was surprised to learn in the discussion afterwards how much of the story was factual. It was a solid movie and I enjoyed it, though I wouldn't put it on my 'must see' list. I was surprised by how charming and engaging Efron was, both in the film and during the Q&A afterwards, where he deftly managed breathless questions like "Zac, what's it like seeing yourself on the big screen?" (I mean, seriously??). Which was only topped in ridiculousness by the first question asked to Claire Danes being about My So Called Life.
Afterwards we joined my friend Lara outside the exit door to play paparazzi and caught the exit of Efron, Danes, Linklater and McKay. As you'd expect, the highest decibel of screaming and flashbulbs hit Efron as he exited the building.
A Lit Chick
Utterly charming and intimate and a terrific way to start the festival on my first day after the disappointment of Burn after Reading. It depicts one week in the life of Orson Welles (played brilliantly by the English theatre actor Christian McKay) and an aspiring young teenage actor named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron of Highschool Musical 1 and 2 fame) as Welles prepares for the premiere of a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the revolutionary Mercury Theatre in New York in November of 1937. The photo above is taken from that 1937 production with Welles as Brutus and Arthur Andersen as Lucius, the role that Efron plays in the production.
I thought to myself, with a laugh, that my 11 soon-to-be-12 year old will be sooo angry with me as the actor Zac Efron was at the screening and spoke briefly before the film. And he was surprisingly good as the ambitious actor who finagles his way into the production and clashes with Welles over his infatuation with Sonja (Claire Danes), a lovely Vassar girl and Welles' right hand "man" in the theatre who can operate with the best of them to get her own way. Welles, monstrous ego and all, finds a way to eliminate the boy from the production after the opening night despite the boy's loyalty and constancy because he dares to challenge Welles.
Mckay, who was in a one man show in New York about Welles where Linklater found him, plays him as a charming, irascible, devious, hot tempered, brilliant egomaniac who manipulates everyone around him - from the troupe of Mercury Theatre actors, investors, various paramours, to his deceived and pregnant wife Virginia.
The costumes and New York scenes are picture perfect ... perhaps too much so? It lacks that gritty quality that a New York street has no matter when it is meant to be staged. Everything is clean and shiny and the clothes well pressed and everything just so. Surprisingly, none of it was shot in New York but on a stage in England which Linklater revealed at the screening.
Linklater was friendly and eloquent despite a couple of feeble questions from the audience. McKay was charming and lovely and a perfect evocation of the young Welles. He spoke about resisting the constant comparisons to the young Welles whom he once thought of as a "fat failure".
Friendly Torontonian that I am, I failed to acknowledge the hello that the author of the book of the same name, Robert Kaplow, made when he sat down beside me in the theatre. I had no idea who he was but he violated TIFF etiquette so he caught me off guard. Generally you do not sit beside another filmgoer if the theatre is not crowded (it wasn't) especially if the filmgoer is female. Chilly Canadian that I am I failed to acknowledge his greeting and felt doubly foolish when the director introduced him from the front where he was addressing the audience. Oh well, that will learn me to be stuck up ...
Last Night with Riviera
Me and Orson Welles takes a bland, naive actor (played, appropriately, by Zac Efron) and puts him in the right place at the right time: outside the Mercury Theatre as Orson Welles is casting for Julius Caesar. More narrative device than three-dimensional character, this pseudo-Holden Caulfield takes us on Altman-esque tour of 1930's Broadway theatre.
Is there anything Linklater can't do? The versatile filmmaker's new comedy is a thoroughly entertaining ensemble piece full of effortless insights into theatre, fame and ambition. Unfolding at a brisk pace in lovingly recreated 1930's broadway, the film features a superb central performance by Christian McKay as Orson Welles. Clare Danes, Eddie Marsan, Ben Chaplin and James Tuper round out the terrific cast as the great director's famous collaborators. Brannagh couldn't have done it better.
by Eugene Novikov
At first glance, Me & Orson Welles is like a million other well-intentioned, not entirely successful prestige pictures vying for attention at Toronto and elsewhere. There's little about it with the potential to outrage or even surprise anyone. But when considered in the context of director Richard Linklater's career, it's jarring -- almost revolting. Because though Me & Orson Welles is nice and smart and unobjectionable, it's the least exciting, least vibrant movie Linklater has ever made.
I say this, obviously, as a great admirer of Linklater's work; a fan. There's no shortage of people to swear by his "cult" films -- early works like Dazed and Confused, Slacker and Before Sunrise -- but I'm a defender of his mainstream efforts, which perennially get short shrift. Movies like School of Rock and The Bad News Bears, while not exactly groundbreaking or intellectually ambitious, have a reckless energy that takes real talent to generate. They're infectious and alive even as they execute familiar formulas. We may know where these films are going, but Linklater makes them feel like anything can happen.
Me & Orson Welles, though mainstream enough, is nothing like that. It holds back. It's staid and awkward. The story of an ambitious teenager who is accidentally hired by Orson Welles to play the part of Lucius in his Broadway production of Julius Caesar, it's meant to be a rumination on being young and talented with the world your oyster; a fairy tale about finding success without betraying yourself or others. Watching it, you can see the movie it's supposed to be: funny, giddy, wide-eyed with wonder. But somehow it just sits there, dead-eyed.
One of the problems is Zac Efron, the Disney Channel heartthrob who plays the titular "Me" -- Richard, an easygoing, good-looking teenager who gets his break of a lifetime after telling Welles what he wanted to hear. If you have kids, you know Efron from High School Musical and its sequel; if you don't, you may remember him from Hairspray. He is built for those movies, where he can sing, dance, ham it up, and hold the screen by himself in his big scenes. In a film like Me & Orson Welles, he's a liability. He's never truly in a scene with someone; he doesn't really connect or interact. If he delivers a line in close-up, you can virtually hear Linklater saying "action" and then "cut." The conceit of Me & Orson Welles is that we observe Welles and his theatrical circus through Richard's eyes, but Efron renders that perspective dull and sterile. He's no fun to watch; his journey of discovery is boring.
He's also part of the reason the film never develops any real comic momentum. There's no gleam in Efron's eye, and he can't sell the comedy. Lines that should have been killer (Love interest to Richard: "What do you have to offer?" Response: "Wealth, travel, fame. I can take you to movies that have all that.") land with a thud. He's not a good foil for the flamboyant Welles, either, because he doesn't seem to absorb anything. He just stands there.
Welles is played by Christian McKay, a very funny newcomer who does a pretty good impression of the man. The film and McKay's performance are both effective in making Welles ambiguous: he's obviously an arrogant, tyrannical maniac, as well as (the movie asserts) a genius, but is that all he is, or is there kindness and genuine concern hiding behind his artistic persona? Me & Orson Welles makes both possibilities plausible before tipping its hand in the third act. That revelation, and its effect on Richard, is one of the few elements in the film that fully works.
Me & Orson Welles is kind of sweet, in the end, and a little heartwarming; it's always watchable. But "kind of sweet" and "watchable" isn't what I've come to expect from this filmmaker. The curse of good work and high expectations, I suppose.
LJ user, lovelyrita40
I think I may have peaked too soon . . .
I may have already had my filmfest highlight. I have no energy to go into too much detail, so I'll just say: GO SEE Me and Orson Welles at the first opportunity. At the end of a long day of films, I was transported, enthralled and highly entertained. Wonderful! And hey, Zac Ephron can act!