Me and Orson Welles begins with actor Richard (Zac Effron) seeking out the great Orson Welles for work. Seeing in his Haribo-boy face the perfect foil to reflect his own greatness, Welles throws Richard a small part in his upcoming production of Julius Ceasar. When Richard gets sweet on PR girl Sonya (Claire Danes) however, the jealous Orson threatens to close the curtain on their budding romance and the boy’s acting career. The frenetic pace of the 1930’s New York broadway scene cries out for the crackle of an early Woody Allen script, though this film raises fewer chuckles than may be expected and often fails to capture the magic of the period. Efron is believable as the fish-out-of-water goof with heart and Claire Danes shines as the seductive self-starter Sonya, though it's Christian MacKay’s tour de force portrayal of Welles that steals the show. In capturing the many sides of this complex character, MacKay carries what is otherwise a lacklustre offering from Linklater.
source (cached version, orig was removed idk maybe it was early or spelling errors, idk)
Richard Linklater's lighthearted rendering of an imagined relationship between Orson Welles and a young would-be actor during Welles's famed 1937 New York production of Julius Caesar soars whenever Christian McKay takes the screen (as the great maestro). But the film backslides whenever McKay is absent. This is due to a severe case of miscasting. Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a young bit actor chosen for his professed ability to play the ukulele. With his "High School Musical" haircut and phony charm intact, the ever-smug Efron isn't equipped for the duality of qualities required for what should have been a fairly complex character. Claire Daines adds her own brand of off-key accomplishment as Sonja Jones, a personal assistant to Welles, whose "ice-queen" status provides the Mercury Theater's male populace with unwarranted lustful thoughts. Linklater does a good job of capturing the vibrancy of Orson Welles when he worked in public theater, but fails to underpin the material's Depression-era setting. The filmmakers would have done better to make a film called "Orson Welles at the Mercury," and construct it around Christian McKay's impeccable interpretation of the man he played on the New York stage in “Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles.”
I’ll come right out and say it: Richard Linklater is better than Me and Orson Welles. Sure, the indie superstar and inspiration to many a director (including Kevin Smith) is responsible for quite a few mainstream movies, but none have ever been so boring and lifeless as this film. School of Rock had Jack Black and a group of endlessly loveable kids. His Bad News Bears remake was surprisingly competent and true to the original. And of course, Dazed and Confused is a staple of the high school stoner genre. Unfortunately, Me and Orson Welles has none of the great things that made Linklater’s more accessible features so interesting.
The flick centers on Richard (Zac Efron), a high school kid with a knack for acting and the arts, who happens upon The Mercury Theatre where Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar is being prepared. By showing off his drum playing skills, Richard catches the eye of Welles himself, who gives the kid a role in his play as Lucius, Caesar’s servant. Here, we meet Sonja (Claire Danes), Welles’ assistant, a hard-to-get beauty who is chased by the entire cast but immediately has an eye for the young Richard.
The rest of the film follows the week leading up to the opening of the play as seen through Richard’s eyes, as he witnesses the sometimes genius, sometimes manic, always unfaithful and unreliable habits of Orson Welles (Christian McKay). During this time, Richard begins to fall for Sonja, who seems just as interested but in a somewhat less serious fashion. We see the trials and tribulations of a work directed by Welles, an auteur to the extent of being a control freak. He rarely gives credit where credit is due, rarely shows love for his actors even when they need it most, and argues extensively about minute details such as which step an actor should stand on. But this is the genius of Orson Welles, and he knows damn well that love can only come after success.
Me and Orson Welles ultimately fails because it centers on its two least appealing characters. Perhaps if a more competent young actor played Richard, the role would seem livelier and more interesting. Instead, Efron rarely sounds comfortable reciting his lines and only once or twice seems believable. You’d think a seasoned veteran like Claire Daines would be able to bring better game to the flick, but even she strikes out, playing Sonja lifelessly, never allowing us to fall in love with her or hate her when the time comes. Sonja is role meant for a sassier, more versatile actress, a girl with far more personality than Daines seems capable of showing.
The shining light in Me and Orson Welles ends up being Christian McKay. McKay’s portrayal of Welles, though not perfect, gives the film the blood that its lead actors fail to give. Every time he enters a room, a sort of wave is felt throughout the theatre, as though the audience has been collectively poked with a stick. We see Welles in all his womanizing, conniving and beautifully artistic glory. When he does wrong, we feel it, and when he loves, we feel it even more.
McKay isn’t the film’s only saving grace, though. Most of the second act is strong, as we follow the main preparations for Julius Caesar, the conflict between Sonja and Richard (the only moment where Efron shows some ability), and the opening night of the play. It’s as though the actors and the writers took their time getting started then found their stride about two thirds through. Seeing the vast intricacies of a theatre production (especially one lead by Orson) along with a reenactment of Welles’ now legendary interpretation of Julius Caesar is a wonder on screen.
It’s a struggle to get through the beginning and end of Me and Orson Welles. This may be an editing problem, but it may also be Richard. It’s hard to care for Richard’s struggle to become an actor and woo an older woman (there’s also a minor subplot that involves Richard and a cute, modest writer). It’s harder to care about Sonja and her shallow intentions. If Orson were an ensemble piece that focused on the lives of the cast members or even only on Orson, it would’ve been more successful. Instead, Richard Linklater’s talent never shines through, as he’s forced to focus on lame characters, while placing everything interesting in the background. But something good comes out of all of this. Me and Orson Welles definitely makes you want to revisit Citizen Kane.
Three stars (out of five)
These sorts of stories work best when the icon (who also, invariably, turns out to have feet of clay) is a purely fictional person, or at least a famous person barely glimpsed. Bring him on too often and he steals the show.
Which Christian McKay does effortlessly here.
He’s not a perfect match, physically. Welles, who was — want to feel like a slacker? — only 22 when "Julius Caesar" debuted, still had a face rimmed with baby fat. And although McKay does a close approximation of that sonorous voice, it’s only close.
But he gets Welles’ mood right, ever self-absorbed, ever ambitious, ever volatile (there was a reason his theater company was called Mercury). Welles loved characters, but like many geniuses, he wasn’t terribly attuned to people; he would share top billing with Shakespeare, but grabbed credit from everyone else.
He was also, according to this movie — based on a book by New Jersey’s Robert Kaplow — as self-destructive as Shakespeare’s own heroes. His hubris was his own love of crises; they gave him the chance to make an entrance, and triumph. Until, one day, he didn’t, and his career shifted under him like sand.
Yet while this movie gets Welles right, and the communal joy of theater (Linklater has always been good at spotlighting outcast cultures), it gets some other things quite wrong.
One is the New York of the Depression era, re-created here in Great Britain. Unfortunately, the Isle of Man is not Manhattan island, and nothing on-screen quite convinces. Nor does star Zac Efron look like a ’30s teen — for one thing, his hair’s too long — or capture our interest.
He’s supposed to love the theater, yet we never really know why, or how it began, or even what he dreams of — just vague dreams about his liking plays and movies and, you know, songs and things. We watch him getting the chance of a lifetime, and yet we never see him work at it. We never know this boy.
I do, however, know one of the people who have been misrepresented on-screen here, and that’s another problem – and one that "fictional histories" like this seem to incur constantly. Only this time, instead of merely rewriting the dead, they’ve taken on the living.
You see, one of the great triumphs of Welles’ reimagined "Julius Caesar" was the scene portraying the death of Cinna. He was played by Norman Lloyd, who was born in Jersey City and went on to a long career (he played the title role in "Saboteur," Dr. Auschlander on "St. Elsewhere" – and, just recently, the nursing home patient in "In Her Shoes").
The real Norman Lloyd is a devoted husband and an erudite man (I interviewed him two years ago and, although 93 then, he was still going strong). But the movie’s Norman Lloyd — he’s called that by name — is a sloppy vulgarian who looks like a Stooge, sounds like a failed Borscht Belt comedian and chases skirts like an amorous terrier.
I hope the real Lloyd — who was actually a newlywed in 1937 — sues, not just for his own sake, but to slow down this trend. I’m getting very weary of filmmakers making up conversations, inventing motives and creating events so that their "based on a real story" movie can get to "the real truth." Because, actually, there’s only one real truth.
And that’s the truth that actually happened.
Two and a half stars
Biopics have long been a reliable source of cinematic tedium. All too often, they fall apart by eschewing the more controversial aspects of the protagonist’s persona and thus, neglecting to show anything of real interest in their life (see Coco Avant Chanel, La Vie en Rose). This failing can perhaps be attributed to the undue influence which the biographical subjects’ surviving relatives hold over the film.
Therefore, it is often the case that the biographies which work most effectively are those that adopt a highly unconventional approach, whereby a meticulously accurate representation of the subject is not the film’s foremost concern – this is true of I’m Not There, The Karen Carpenter Story and indeed, Citizen Kane.
Me and Orson Welles undertakes a similarly unusual approach. It focuses on the fictional tale of Richard Samuels, a young student (played by Zac Efron) who innocuously secures a role in Orson Welles’s legendary 1937 Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar.
The ensuing story documents the boy’s difficulties in adapting to the rigorous demands which Welles requires him to meet, all the while having to contend with the director’s notoriously egotistical and eccentric personality.
Richard soon becomes smitten with Sonja, an assistant working in the theatre, who in turn hopes to be swept away by legendary producer David O. Selznick. At the same time, Richard and his fellow cast members struggle to get to grips with the play’s material as opening night looms.
While the entire cast excel in this vivid recreation of 1930s New York, Christian McKay’s impersonation of Orson Welles is the clear standout performance. He perfectly captures the mischievous grin Welles perpetually wore, while exquisitely conveying the endless contradictions inherent to his persona.
Director Richard Linklater, along with screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo, also deserve enormous credit. Between them, they gradually unveil the various depths of Welles’s personality to create an extremely fascinating and doubtless, relatively accurate interpretation of the director.
And given that Linklater was himself something of filmmaking prodigy having directed, produced, written and starred in the critically acclaimed Slacker (at the rather young age of 31), it is perhaps fitting that he ended up working on this project.
On the downside, the stereotypically nerdy character of Gretta – who admittedly only appears in a few scenes – adds little of interest and constitutes a patently unnecessary diversion from the film’s central plot. In addition, it is obvious that the film could do with shedding about ten minutes of its running time and its ending in particular is unnecessarily prolonged. All in all though, Me and Orson Welles is drama of the highest order.
In a Nutshell: Likely to satisfy Welles enthusiasts and casual fans alike, largely thanks to McKay’s stellar acting.
Blog: Susan Granger
When you hear the name Orson Welles, you think “Citizen Kane,” right? But before that 1941 cinematic masterpiece, Welles revolutionized New York theater and radio.
This coming-of-age story, set in 1937, revolves around the few days that a 17 year-old theater buff, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), spent in the company of 22 year-old Orson Welles (Christian McKay), who was staging a risky, modern-dress version of “Julius Caesar” at the newly formed Mercury Theater that Welles founded with John Houseman.
“This is the story of one week in my life,” Richard says. “It was the week I slept in Orson Welles’ pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love.”
When Richard has the audacity to do an impetuous, curbside audition for Welles, he’s given a bit part and catapulted into the intoxicating, creative world inhabited by Welles’ icy, ambitious assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), who coolly informs him that he’ll get no money, “just the opportunity to be sprayed by Orson’s spit.”
Working from Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo’s uneven screenplay, based on Robert Kaplow’s meticulously researched young-adult novel, director Richard Linklater (“School of Rock,” “Before Sunset”) adroitly places the fictional Richard into a realistic context. While the plausible, behind-the-scenes vignettes are fascinating, the awkward romantic subplot flounders. What makes this concept work is Christian McKay’s astounding physical resemblance to Welles and his perceptive, spellbinding impersonation; McKay previously played Welles on-stage in “Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles.” What diminishes the believability is Zac Efron’s performance which is disconcertingly similar to his Disney “High School Musicals;” Efron never manages to convey the transformational emotional arc of his character. On the other hand, Ben Chaplin, Zoe Kazan, James Tupper, Eddie Marsan and Kelly Reilly entertain in supporting roles.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Me and Orson Welles” is a spirited 7. And if arcane theatrical history intrigues you, check out Tim Robbins’ “Cradle Will Rock” (1999) about the Federal Theater’s staging of a pro-labor musical, also in 1937.
7 out of 10
Blog: The Moviegoer
I have never been on one of Richard Linklater’s sets, but it’s hard to imagine him doing what Orson Welles does in his new film Me and Orson Welles and yelling at the assembled cast and crew, “You are all adjuncts to my vision!” My impression of Linklater — formed by watching his best films, Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Before Sunset — is of a director who’s the opposite of a control freak, someone more than happy to hand over large portions of his film to actors, musicians, even animators and trust them to make some huge creative decisions. The Welles we meet in Me and Orson Welles, meanwhile, is the world’s biggest credit hog, a man who isn’t happy being the director, producer, and star of his stage version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar; he has to have people think he designed the set as well. (He’d probably claim credit for the script if he thought he could get away with it.)
A backstage comedy? Set in 1937 New York? And starring Zac Efron? Me and Orson Welles is an exceedingly square project for a laid-back Texas hipster like Richard Linklater, but on its own terms, it’s a fun, albeit minor little picture that delves into a great, unexplored period in Welles’ life, when he was racing all over New York, putting on plays, acting in radio shows, and seducing every pretty girl who crossed his path, even with a pregnant wife back home. (This period supplied some of the best anecdotes in This Is Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich’s lively collection of Welles interviews. I’m sure all the stories are heavily embroidered, but it’s still a blast to hear Welles talk about how arriving at the radio studio for a live broadcast and being told moments before going on air what character he was playing.)
Christian McKay, an actor previously unknown to me, looks more like the comedian Joe Lo Truglio than Orson Welles, but he does a top-notch Welles imitation — the amused purse-lipped smile, the casually silver-tongued oratory, the ability to make every speech, every gesture, into a performance everyone in the room will want to pay attention to. There’s an amusing joke early on in the film where Welles spots a book with John Gielgud’s photo on the cover and wonders aloud if there’s a man alive more in love with the sound of his own voice.
That book is the property of Richard Samuels (Efron), a stagestruck teenager who hustles his way into Welles’ Mercury Theatre troupe just when they’re putting together their legendary 1937 modern-dress version of Caesar. Of course, when Richard joins them, the only thing legendary about the show is its level of disorganization — opening night keeps getting delayed, the company is running out of cash, and the cast is feeling a little crushed under the weight of Welles’ ego. But Welles is so confident and charismatic, so skilled at convincing everyone of the brilliance of his vision, that no one dares leave — least of all Richard, who gets two scenes as Brutus’ servant Lucius. In one, he even gets to sing, accompanying himself on the lute. (Actually, Welles can’t afford a lute, so they’re using a disguised ukulele.) In the process, Richard falls for Welles’ assistant Sonja (Claire Danes) and learns a thing or two about love, art, and Shakespeare in the process.
I am a total sucker for backstage comedies, especially the ones where opening night looks like it’s going to be a total disaster but miraculously turns into a triumph instead, and sure enough, I fell for Me and Orson Welles as well. Efron’s fine in the male ingénue role, Danes looks very fetching in her ’30s blouses, and Eddie Marsan makes a strong impression as John Houseman — you believe Welles must be a genius, because there’s no way Houseman would have put up with working for him otherwise.
And even if it’s not the most daring film Linklater has ever made, it feels like it must have been a fun way to keep his creative batteries charged. Near the end of the film, Linklater shows Welles, flush with triumph, worriedly asking himself, “How do I top this?” Linklater is hopefully asking himself the same question.
Like so many of Richard Linklater’s films, his latest, “Me and Orson Welles,” follows an ad hoc group working together towards an unlikely, and very impending, goal. In his winning “School of Rock” a bunch of children (and one mental child) aimed to play a great rock show. His pint-sized Bad News Bears struggled for dignity through sport and teamwork, crescendo achieved via the “big game.” In “Me and Orson Welles,” Linklater hops back to the 1930s to the debut of Orson Welles’s political staging of “Julius Caesar,” but despite this sophisticated material he still populates his movie with childish types (narcissistic theater actors, producers and designers), winding them up and letting them go. The filmmaker’s “Before Sunrise” / Sunset” diptych may be considered his archetypal works, but in focusing on just two characters they’re atypical: few American filmmakers are as fully invested in teasing out the character of communities, and his films are always full of well-balanced personages.
Linklater does construct heroes, leads, principals, but they’re most often subsumed into the ensemble—“Rock”‘s Jack Black and “Bears”’ Billy Bob Thornton both took backseats by the end of their respective starring vehicles. “Me and Orson Welles” has at its center Zac Efron as a theater-loving naif, but he’s neither the film’s most intriguing character, nor its most important. Efron’s Richard Samuels is a high school student with artistic ambitions who literally stumbles into a bit part in Orson Welles’s landmark Mercury Theater-opening production of “Caesar.” Mistaken by Welles for just another struggling young actor (grandly played by relative unknown Christian McKay), Richard is summarily dubbed “Junior” by his egotistical director, handed a ukulele and thrust into the madcap production mere days before it’s scheduled to open, just as the cast and crew is beginning to lose faith. This Orson is what we have come to expect of portrayals of the mad genius: brilliant, charismatic, proud, simultaneously above the fray and petty. However, unlike the Welles of our mind, most often the bloated, bearded magician of his later years, McKay’s Welles is shockingly young. “Me and Orson Welles” may be most valuable for reminding us of the wellspring of the legendary filmmaker’s mythology.
"Me and Orson Welles” is a film of the theater, and, as per the genre’s requirements, its bulk is taken up with backstage hi-jinks: personality collisions, fleeting romances, technical and creative difficulties. You’ll recognize the troupe’s types and well-worn dynamics—for those so inclined this kind of material is as comfortable as a slipper. If the familiar scenarios never feel stale, it’s because of Linklater’s commitment to resurrecting even the hoariest of cinematic cliches through careful study and execution. He even manages to move so quickly through a spate of Orson Welles in-jokes that references to the man’s later career never feel exhausted.
There’s nothing lazy about “Me and Orson Welles,” but, even so, Linklater may be somewhat too lackadaisical a cinematic sensibility for the kind of screwball comedy that the screenplay sometimes aspires towards. It’s set in 1937, the right era for whip-smart dialogues and crackling physical comedy (his production at least nails the period), but these have never been the director’s forte. He seems more comfortable in his film’s casual opening when Richard, while riffling through 45s at a music store, runs across cute Gretta (Zoe Kazan) and the two fall into a loose Linklaterian chat about the popular music of the day, their dreams, and the like. The scene feels like a potential one-off, but as with some of Linklater’s most rewarding gambits, Gretta’s seeming narrative dead-end blossoms throughout the film, providing a welcome escape from the increasingly suffocating dynamics of the production.
Though it feels somewhat in doubt over much of the film, Welles does pull off his “Julius Caesar,” and Linklater’s abridged version of that famed opening night is some of the most intuitive rhythmic work of his career. Linklater may be a filmmaker more noted for his meandering takes and winding dialogue, but he handles Welles’s theatrical flourishes brilliantly, popping in and out of the show at precise moments (recalling how well he adapted to rock concerts and sports games in previous films), hitting the most famous beats, and also leaving room for slight spaces that remind us that “Me and Orson Welles” is a film about characters, not a history piece about an important play. Add another notch to his belt; at this point in his career, Linklater has fully made the unlikely transition from classic indie auteur to ideal studio director: he skips through genres, leaving his unmistakable generous personal touch in all of them. Even if his films still register as “indie” via their price tags or distribution mechanisms, he’s definitely playing in the big leagues.
ETA... I thought I had posted this already but I can't find it easily so:
Hollywood and Fine
Richard Linklater’s “Me and Orson Welles” is pure delight, a backstage story set in a romantic period built around a magically charismatic character.
It’s also the movie that proves that Zac Efron is a real actor, not just a teen star with a solid singing voice and a dazzling smile. As the ‘Me’ in the title, he holds his own against the dashing figure of Orson Welles. And this is Welles near the peak of his youthful genius, played with eerie proximity and great humor by newcomer Christian McKay, in what may be the year’s most auspicious film debut.
Set in 1937, “Me and Orson Welles” features Efron as Richard, a theater-struck high-school student who spends his after-school hours roaming the music stores and theatrical marquees of Manhattan. His rambling brings him to the front of the Mercury Theater, Welles’ fledgling troupe, as the actors gather on the sidewalk to see its sign lit for the first time.
Richard quickly ingratiates himself with Welles and winds up cast in a small role in Welles’ imminent production of “Julius Caesar,” after lying about his ability to play the ukulele. Suddenly he’s in a Broadway show, taken under the wing of the company manager, Sonja (Claire Danes) and the new favorite of the mercurial, blustering and seductive Welles.
Based on a novel by Robert Kaplow, “Me and Orson Welles” is about heroes, genius, innocence, growing up and, of course, the theater. As played by Efron, Richard is confident and nervy, too young to know better about some things, but a fast learner – a kindred spirit in whom Welles may see a younger version of himself. Richard has the resilience of youth and can absorb the lessons Welles teaches him without taking the accompanying insults personally.
He’s a hustler with enough innate smarts and game to also capture the attention of Sonja, with whom he becomes emotionally involved and in over his head. Efron can play young and heartsick and still find the humor in the pain; as Richard, he’s an unexpected romantic who learns some serious lessons about love in the adult world and its occasionally pragmatic nature.
Danes has the perfect blend of charm, warmth and common sense as Sonja, who understands what she’s doing as she sleeps her way toward a break in show business. She’s self-aware, an empowered woman who has figured out how to get where she needs to be.
The real find here is McKay, whose Orson Welles nearly effervesces on screen. He has the music of Welles’ voice tuned perfectly, capable of shifting tones with a thought. The right blend of ego, genius and childishness gives this Welles the life and potential of the man who is still marinating “Citizen Kane” and the “War of the Worlds” broadcast somewhere in his brain.
“Me and Orson Welles” captures an American original at a seminal moment in his creative life. His best work still lay ahead of him and he had yet to run up against the hard wall of studio indifference and control that would flummox him for much of his career. Linklater’s film captures the sheer force of will by which Welles created theatrical history, seemingly while doing three other things at the same time.
It would be nice if Efron’s “High School Musical” fans follow him to this new film – and discover Welles in the process. Even if they don’t embrace Welles, they’ll still find a film that uses its solid wit and intelligence to expand beyond the confines of the romantic comedy. They’ll discover a film that explores questions about how being touched by the muse in the right way at the right time can change your life.
Also, ComingSoon.net posted a great interview with Richard too... just going to post a few excerpts but read the rest here.
CS: You've done a bunch of work with smaller studios as well as the bigger studios. At any point did you say, "It would be great to get a studio on board," even a smaller one? Because it does have Zac in it, you know?
Linklater: Yeah, I dunno. I didn't get the memo, but the industry, they really don't do films like this anymore. They really weren't interested. Even once Zac was aboard they were just, "No, we're not interested."
CS: How important was it to be accurate to it? There's always some kind of fictionalization in a movie like this to make it more entertaining, but how much did you really want to stick to just showing what happened?
Linklater: Well, it's a nice genre, historical fiction, because the history is very accurate. I guess it's like "Titanic," where you really try to get that accurate. Then within that there's this fictional element. Zac's character really is... there really was a teenager in that play. He was 15 instead of 17, so that's the fictional, but made him a little older so he could have these adult relations, but he really did set off the sprinklers. I talked to him on the phone and he lives in New York still...
CS: You talked with the guy that Zac actually plays in the movie?
Linklater: Yeah. His name is Arthur Anderson. He's had a long career in radio and done a lot of voice work. Norman Lloyd, who played Sinner the Poet, he's still alive. He lives in LA and plays tennis three times a week. He's like 95 years old. He could kill everybody.