Based in real theatrical history, ME AND ORSON WELLES is a romantic coming-of-age story about a teenage actor (Zac Efron) who lucks into a role in Julius Caesar as its being re-imagined by a brilliant, impetuous young director named Orson Welles at his newly-founded Mercury Theater in NYC, 1937.
The rollercoaster week leading up to opening night has the charismatic-but-sometimes-crue l Welles (impressive newcomer Christian McKay) staking his career on this risky production while Richard (Zac Efron) mixes with everyone from starlets to stagehands in behind-the-scenes adventures bound to change him.
This is an entertaining ensemble movie. Virtually unknown Christian McKay transformed into Orsen Welles's body and soul. His performance is uncanny. Zac Efron shows he's not just a teen heart throb. He can act. Clair Danes is the ambitious assistant to Welles.
Perhaps the most brilliant films by writer/director Richard Linklater are "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" (also "Waking Life"). Who can forget those fascinating conversations on quiet streets in Europe? He seems have a unique ability to ignite the sparks between a couple on the big screen. In his latest film, "Me and Orson Welles" (UK/USA 2008 | 114 min.), he leaves traces of similar magical moments whenever two protagonists are alone on the big screen. However, this new charming period-drama is dominated by the marvelous performance from a British pianist-turn-actor Christian McKay, playing the legendary Orsen Welles.
Based on Robert Kaplow's novel, the film is a fictional recount of the behind the stage story about Orsen Welles's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at Mercury Theatre in NYC, 1937.
Seventeen-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) lands a role in Orsor Welles's (Christian McKay) theater production Caesar and falls for Orson's ambitious assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes). During the short period of preparation for the play's opening, he learns more about show business, love, and life than he ever hopes.
Although the story is told from the eyes of a teenager, the exuberant, charismatic, extremely talented, and sometimes arrogant Orson Welles unquestionably draws all the spotlights. The relatively little known Christian McKay deserves an Oscar nomination for his fantastic portrait of this colorful persona.
This is an utterly entertaining film with glorious art design, terrific ensemble cast, and nostalgic music.
Blog: From Schlub to Stud
Me and Orson Welles isn't bad.
It isn't great, either.
Teen matinee idol, Zac Ephron, is a bit lackluster. He doesn't really have the chops to carry a movie from start to finish. Claire Danes gives a fairly unmemorable performance. (Which is pretty much how Danes' career has gone ever since My So Called Life.) And the script is dripping with cliches. The writers go out of their way to load the dialogue with references to Rodgers and Hart and John Houseman other 1930s pop trivia, in a way that I found sort of phony.
All that being said, the movie is worth sitting through if only for Christian McKay's remarkable Orson Welles.
The voice is so jarringly similar; the features are so close; and the ease with which McKay spits out his dialogue feels so identical to Welles' great, imperial mien that it is really a marvel to behold. After a while you forget that you're watching McKay and think of him simply as Welles.
Me and Orson Welles could have been much better. I was disappointed that Welles' decision to turn Shakespeare's Julius Caesar into a performance set in Mussolini's Italy wasn't discussed at all. That was an extremely political choice and politics are not discussed in the least. (Except when Danes says, "It feels like the world is going to hell..." Oy.)
Moreover, unlike in other movies about famous productions (Shakespeare in Love, or Topsy Turvy) the actual story of Julius Caesar isn't really discussed. Which I think was a mistake.
Finally, the Mercury Players (the group of actors that assembled around Welles) were not given the just treatment they deserve. Sure, Orson Welles was the star of that company, but they were some of the very best actors of their era -- and you wouldn't know it from Me and Orson Welles. Which was likewise disappointing.
But, then, nobody was better at the flawed work of art than Mr. Orson Welles. Was the director, Richard Linklater, making an attempt to keep with that flawed, but brilliant spirit? I highly doubt it. But, nevertheless, cheers to Mr. McKay. A worthy performance.
Blog: Matthew's Likely Story
1. Orson Welles deserved every horrible thing that ever happened to him. God, what a lousy human being.
2. Lousy human beings make the best actors. God, what a great actor. And the guy playing him is no slouch either.
3. Clare Danes has the best agent ever. I mean really; I don't get it. She mugs. She mugs ALL THE TIME. And she always gets work. Plus she always gets work as the woman into whose pants everybody tries to get. Like everybody in this movie. And Steve Martin in Shopgirl, which was just creepy. What is it about this woman that people think is irresistible? Hmmm. Maybe I should call Billy Crudup.
4. There were no gay actors in the Mercury Theatre. None. Nada. Zip. Every one of them was a skirt-hound. How do I know this? Because in the entire course of the movie, not one guy makes a pass at Zac Efron. I mean, really -- the guy is gorgeous -- if he walked through a cemetery, he'd get come-hither looks from dead people. The only way a male who looks like this can spend a week with a bunch of New York actors and get nothing? Every single guy in the company would have to be straighter than a yardstick.
5. All actors are manipulators, cowards and liars.
6. The unattainable woman always screws the coming-of-age guy.
7. The unattainable woman always screws the coming-of-age guy. [Yes it's listed twice, lol]
8. Broken hearted and disillusioned is better than rich and famous. Sour grapes, anyone? Just once I'd like to see a Hollywood movie about acting that has somebody say what everyone in Hollywood believes: rich and famous is everything -- and if you can't make the grade, you're worthless. But no. All we'll ever get is the comforting lie that normal people live lives that are so rich and fulfilled that everyone in Hollywood envies them. Two words: My. Ass.
9. The Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar did not have a curtain call.
10. Coming-of-age stories only work when you care about the kid who's coming of age. So on that level, this movie didn't work for me. It's a lot like Jude Law's Hamlet -- as long as Christian McKay's Orson Welles is around, it's riveting. But when he's not there, you wind up doing what the actors in Julius Caesar do. You wind up waiting for Orson.
11. The New Yorker only publishes stories in which nothing happens. Oh wait -- I knew that already.
British thespian Christian McKay is charismatic, enigmatic and pitch perfect in his portrayal of legendary theatre and film director, Orson Welles. He is all thick, creamy charm and wonderfully, audaciously, self-confident. You want to be in his presence, to be caught up in the excitement of pulling off a daring production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar against all the odds. McKay's Welles convinces us that art matters, and that excellence is possible, and that if the artist wants to charm a little radio secretary or two in the meantime, well, who is he to be pinned down by conventional bourgeois morality? All hail, the brilliant wunderkind Orson Welles, and woe betide you if you dare to question his ducal rights.
The tragedy of ME AND ORSON WELLES is that Richard Linklater has not fashioned a framing device interesting enough to hold our attention when Welles is off screen. Indeed, Welles must be turning in his grave to see his grand personality reduced to romantic-comedy fodder. For, in this ill-advised film, we are asked to see Welles through the eyes of a naive, romantic schoolboy (Zac Efron with his first decent haircut), who gets a bit-part in Welles' production. For much of the movie's runtime, the schoolkid follows Welles around, filching his best pick-up lines and moving in on his PA (Claire Danes) only to get ideas above himself and mess it all up. We are supposed to care about this young kid losing his illusions about what it takes to get ahead, and worse still, to care about his romance with a drippy wannabe writer (Zoe Kazan) with eyes so wide she could be a Disney heroine.
All of this is so much nonsense. What we really care about is Welles and his genius and his relationship with long-time collaborators - his producer John Houseman (Eddie Marsan) and his best friend, Joe Cotton. The movie sags when Welles is off-screen. Frankly, I would've put up with just seeing him schmooze chicks, but what would've been superb would've been a portrayal of how he worked. Sadly, other than one seen where he discusses The Magnificent Ambersons, we get precious little of that.
The resulting film is too frail a frame upon which to hang a biopic of such a great man. It is likely to disappoint all potential audiences. The HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL crowd will no doubt be annoyed to see their pet outshone by an older, less handsome man, and the cineastes will be teased but not satiated by McKay's performance. Little scene gems - a big band led by Jools Holland with Eddi Reader as the singer - are wasted on such a thin film.
Blog: Fourth Row Center
Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles is a jazzy, fast-paced, high-spirited theatrical romp, the kind of backstage tale that Hollywood used to crank out every other week, only this time with the real names and most of the good, ribald stories left in. The “me” of the title is Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), and he is a fictional character; the film is based on a novel by Robert Kaplow. But just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it isn’t truthful. It is based on upon a real turening point in Welles’ life and career: the Mercury Theater’s modern-dress staging of Julius Caesar.
But Richard is our audience surrogate; a stage-crazy high school kid from the suburbs who inadvertently talks his way into a minor role in Caesar a week before opening night. A pretty production assistant (Claire Danes) is assigned to help the kid learn his lines, and a bit of a spark develops. Meanwhile, Welles (Christian McKay) seems intent to push his cast and crew to the limit—the frantic final week features plenty of incomplete rehearsals and temper tantrums, in addition to the company’s primary activity: “waiting for Orson.”
The screenplay by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr. ballsily presumes that we know who Welles and the Mercury were, and thank God for that; while the Efron target audience may be clueless, I appreciated not having to sit through an endless text crawl at the top of the picture. Enough exposition is cleverly smuggled into the dialogue; the specifics aren’t necessarily important. That said, the picture goes to remarkable (and admirable) lengths to get the specifics of the production right; it is, as far as I can tell, exactly as described in countless Welles biographies (particularly in Simon Callow’s indispensable The Road to Xanadu). As a Welles fan, it is a real treat to see those legendary stories brought to vivid, breathing life. For example, he was playing “The Shadow” and other radio roles at the time, to help finance the Mercury; in order to fulfill those obligations but spend as little time as possible away from his theater, he’d take an ambulance across town to the radio studio and waltz in moments before show time, performing (brilliantly) without rehearsal.
McKay is the film’s breakout star; he’s flat-out phenomenal as Welles, not only nailing the great one’s physicality and speaking voice, but his zestful energy and intensity. He encompasses the personality of the man without succumbing to mere impression. The script is a keen psychological study of the man, in his specific actions and dialogue (like his wonderful speech about why he loves to act—“If people can’t find you, they can’t dislike you”), his relationships (particularly with the much-abused John Houseman), and his overall disposition. Caesar was a great play that came together at the last possible second; the more you read about Welles, the more frequently you’ll find that he waited until that last second, sometimes for no good reason. What kind of man continuously subjects himself to that kind of pressure? And what happens when the eleventh-hour miracles don’t come?
The picture is also an astute examination of hero worship—as Richard finds out, there’s no lift like praise from someone you consider great, and no crushing defeat like finding out they’re a sonofabitch. The movie understands that, though I’m not quite certain Efron does. He’s a likeable and charismatic presence, but a bit of a cipher here; there’s something dead in his pretty blue eyes, and too many of his line readings are wooden. There’s not enough fire in his belly, and though Daines is engaging, their romance is a bit of a non-starter. Frankly, his sweet, honest relationship with a slightly neurotic writer (played by the wonderful Zoe Kazan) plays much more entertainingly.
But enough of that. The film is beautifully made, full of impressively detailed costume and scenic design and expressive but controlled camerawork (by Mike Leigh’s favorite cinematographer, Dick Pope), and director Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) brings it to a perfect conclusion, with an exquisite recreation of the show’s opening night that is absolutely thrilling to watch. Me and Orson Welles is an enjoyable throwback, and a skilled portrait. But its best quality is its enthusiasm; it feeds off the energy, the passion, and the creativity of its characters, all young and full of ideas, ready to take on the world. At the picture’s end, Richard isn’t sure what specifically he wants to do with his life, but he knows what he loves: “Whatever it is—writing, acting, music plays—I want to be a part of it all.” Linklater’s wonderful movie knows that feeling from the inside out. It is a picture of pure enjoyment.
Blog: John Byron Kuhner
Any American with talent and artistic ambition must be a little haunted by Orson Welles. On the one hand, there is his achievement – he wrote (cowrote), directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, universally acknowledged as one of the five or so greatest films of all time, when he was 25 – and on the other hand, there is his life. He lost his mother when he was nine, his father when he was fifteen. For every success he had three failures. He began innumerable projects and finished very few of them. Not being able to work for others, he spent his career mostly outside Hollywood, scraping together, or rather failing to scrape together, financing for projects. What income he received from his later work was often possessed by the Internal Revenue Service – he paid no attention to details like accounting (another reason why financiers avoided him). There are the three divorces. He was at one point so fat – over four hundred pounds – that he had to lose weight to play the part of Falstaff. At the end of his life there is the debasement, the man who could not compromise his artistic integrity working for a studio selling his deep baritone for petty advertisements. You can see in his old face that he was tortured by the thought of a life misspent somehow: he hardly knows quite how, but somehow he knew he failed (a look all the more powerful to me because in his old age he looked so much like my father).
The reasons for this – a cult of genius which valued inception and idea and devalued devotion and fruition, the lack of artistic traditions in America capacious enough to train something greater than mere talent, an immense need for love on Welles’ part which art or fame never had any hope of assuaging anyway – are not the topic of the movie Me and Orson Welles. But Welles’ presence inevitably brings them up, and the movie does not shrink from them. The Welles-character gives in the film his version of the actors’ creed, and it seems about right for him (and many artists): your own life, if you looked straight at it, is so petty and trivial and empty, that you need to latch on to something like greatness – Caesar, Othello, Shakespeare – to fill in the inner emptiness, and give you a respite from yourself. This seems perennially relevant to the problem of “the artist” as he is defined in our society, and on some level is so obvious it does well with the oblique treatment this movie gives it, and in the meantime you can bask in the upside of young genius: the grandiloquence, the self-staging, the passion and the irresponsible epicureanism.
The movie uses a time-honored plot mechanism to offer perspective on genius: a blank, youthful protagonist (Zac Efron, who is somewhat shamefully given a modern haircut and looks woefully out of place, but he fulfills his basic function of being more or less nice to look at). By a combination of luck and timely chutzpah this young man makes an impression on Welles and lands a bit part in a production of Julius Caesar (as Lucius), and because he is so youthful and unthreatening he is able to befriend just about as many members of the cast as we can handle in a two hour movie. There is a bit of sexual Bildungsroman material in his encounter with Welles’ assistant, played (quite radiantly) by Claire Danes. As is so often true of female roles, she brings tragedy in her wake, there being only one of her, and many who desire her, which happens in life quite enough.
There are enough movies about the backstage hijinks of theatrical life, but that is because it makes an interesting subject: eccentric personalities, endless flirtations with disaster, engagement with real genius and high idea (here in the form of Julius Caesar). This is another one to add to the list.
But the lynchpin of the movie is Christian McKay’s portrayal of Welles. Some roles are almost impossible to adequately play: it is unlikely we will ever have an actor who could play the real-life Julius Caesar well (as opposed to Shakespeare’s fake marble colossus), because a man capable of such portrayal would become a Caesar, not an actor. Similarly there is some danger in being given the role of a theatrical genius: you really must play well in order to give plausibility to the whole. McKay’s performance is astonishing, really: the deep, resonant voice, the staginess but also brilliance are all there. There is a physical resemblance as well. He is the obvious center of the screen at all times, just as Welles must have been in real life. But this is not a meticulous reproduction: Welles was only 22 when he directed and starred in his Julius Caesar, but it would be nearly impossible to get a 22-year-old to do the job McKay does. You do not mind, because the focus of the movie is not so much a moment in Welles’ life as a general portrait of his artistic program (Robert Bolt did similar work refashioning Lawrence of Arabia’s life into a film).
The play – which gets very nice treatment in the movie – is also used to reflect on the character of Welles in a very satisfying way. You are well aware that certain speeches are meant to indicate Welles, and that there is a correspondence between the man and the plays he loved and staged:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
… He reads much;
He is a great observer and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men…
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous. (I.ii)
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’ (V.v)
Blog: Jeff Ellis
I went and saw Me and Orson Welles earlier today. It's a sweet, if rather breezy, film that is distinguished by Christian McKay's outstanding performance in the role of Orson Welles. McKay, in his first major role, dominates with such confidence and style that it's somewhat surprising to realize that he's really only in a very small portion of the finished film.
The same, of course, can be said of Welles' legendary turn in The Third Man, a film that almost everyone thinks of as being a movie starring Orson Welles despite the fact that Welles is only on screen for 15 minutes.. Meanwhile the film's actual star, Joseph Cotten, appears in every scene.
In other words, McKay dominates Me and Orson Welles by giving a truly Wellesian performance. It's hard to think of anything more difficult than bring to life an icon but McKay does just that.
In many ways, Orson Welles is the patron saint for frustrated artists everywhere. His well-documented "bad" behavior gives us justification for our own habits. His subsequent destruction by a film industry threatened by his genius gives us justification for our own paranoia. And the fact that, more than anyone, Orson Welles changed the language of film gives us justification to continue creating even when the rest of the world seems to be more concerned with destroying.
Blog: Left Hand Endeavor
Last night I went to see Me and Orson Welles after dinner with my sister and her friends. I went in with absolutely no expectations because I really couldn't tell if I would love or hate the film, but I ended up loving it!
It was one of those movies that makes you want to move to New York City and dive head first into something exciting! But above and beyond all the cheesy real life inspiration it provided, miss Claire Danes' wardrobe was just about the best I've seen! It was perfectly in line with what's been inspiring me lately. 1930's collars and blouses and little short sleeved sweaters, and her hair!!!!! I still haven't really mastered the art of putting curlers in my hair, probably for lack of patience, but this movie makes me want to try.
I won't ramble on too long about it, but I think this movie is worth seeing simply for her wardrobe! I also ended up really liking the movie itself, but should some of you not be as into it, I'm sure those clothes won't disappoint!
As for Zac Efron, well despite being guilty of gossiping about how "cute" he is with my 12 year old Goddaughter, Lauren, I actually had my doubts about him playing this role, but he's really not so bad in it! And he looks sort of adorable in his scruffy 1930's pants and suspenders combo running around NYC with his ukulele...
I'll leave you with that, I don't want to say too much, but I definitely recommend seeing it, even if you wait for it to come out on DVD!
Blog: Film Diatribe
What drove me to this film was not man boy superstar Zac Efron, but Orson Welles. Like every young cinephile there was a period when I was obsessed with Welles. I sought out every one of his film I could get my hands on. Welles remains an inspiration for all young wannabe filmmakers. Here is a man who at the age of 25 made the world’s greatest film, Citizen Kane. He remains a once in a life time iconic figure.
Director Richard Linklater’s “Me and Orson Welles” stars Zac Efron as a young high school student living in 1937 New York City. One day he encounters a young Orson Welles, played by newcomer Christian McKay, and is able to get cast in a small supporting part in the real life Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar. During the production of the play Efron falls for Claire Danes, who plays a career driven production assistant for the Mercury Theatre.
Christian McKay is terrific as Orson Welles. His Welles towers over the film. His dead on impression of Welles is able to capture the ego and brilliance of Welles. If you close your eyes you could swear that you are actually listening to the real life Orson Welles up on the screen. This performance deserves some serious awards consideration. McKay, in his first screen role, will forever be associated with the great director. He is able to fully bring to life this larger than life icon.
In comparison to Christian McKay, Zac Efron is really no match. This is not to say that Efron is bad in the film. He’s fine in his role. He seems very suited to the 1930’s type nostalgia that the film captures. Danes is also very good in her role as the aide who has no qualms with sleeping to the top.
Other than the great performance of McKay as Welles, the film itself is nothing special. However, the picture is quite entertaining and fun. It’s intriguing to see all the backstage politics and drama that goes into the production of the play. One great shot in the film is a long tracking shot of Welles walking into a radio station to record a radio play. That long take is able to capture the arrogance, trickery, charm and genius of Orson Welles.
Blog: Dave's Movie Site
There has never been, and never will be, someone quite like Orson Welles. He was a man of great contradictions and genius. He had huge appetites for women, and later in life for food. He demanded, and received, absolute loyalty from the people who worked with him. He was an egomaniac and often difficult to work with. He has a man you both loved and hated. He had such a supreme confidence about himself, that even when he drove his people crazy, they stuck by him. Why? Because everyone could tell his genius. If you stuck with Orson, you may go through hell, but you were going to be a part of something that would be remembered forever.
I have seen Welles portrayed by many actors over the year. Vincent D’Onfrio probably did the best job in his cameo roles in Ed Wood. Liev Scheiber and Angus McFadyen tried valiantly in RKO 281 and Cradle Will Rock respectively, and did a decent job, but didn’t quite pull it off. Maurice LaMarche does a killer Welles impression, that he has used in animated shows like The Simpsons and The Critic. And I will always remember Jim Cummings brilliant voice work on an episode of Pinky and the Brain, which mocked Welles’ infamous frozen pea ad.
In Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles though, Christian McKay outdoes them all. He looks uncannily like a young Orson Welles, and his has perfected Welles speech patterns. There are times in this movie, usually small moments when McKay simply smiles, when I swore that I was looking at the real Welles. But McKay’s performance is more than just genetics and impersonation; he embodies Welles, and all his contradictions, perfectly. You cannot help but love the guy even when he goes off on one of his unreasonable tirades, yelling at whoever happens to be around him at that moment. It is, in short, one of the best performances I have ever seen by an actor playing an iconic figure from the past.
The movie that surrounds this towering performance is pleasant enough. Young Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) comes to New York one day, and ends up in front of the Mercury theater, where by pure happenstance, he ends up being cast in the small role of Lucious in Welles now infamous stage production of Julius Caesar. The movie concentrates on Richard, his struggles to try and learn how to play the ukulele (that will be disguised as a lute, and which he’ll have to serenade Welles’ Brutus in a key scene), and his relationship with Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), a kind of girl Friday for the Mercury theater. Everyone in the cast wants Sonja, but it is Richard that she warms to. There is something sweet and innocent about him and his come ons that contrast him to the rest of the cast – especially Joseph Cotton (James Tupper, who also looks uncannily like his real life counterpart), who just wants another notch on his belt.
Linklater is a talented director, and he gives Me and Orson Welles the proper period details, and keeps the story moving along rapidly. Efron, in his first real role, does a fine job as Samuels, and Danes is cute and believable as Sonja. It’s not their fault that whenever they are on screen, we long to get back to McKay’s Welles. Me and Orson Welles is a solid movie all around – lightweight, enjoyable, but it is McKay’s performance that makes it a must see movie. It’s one of the best performances of the year.