Based on theatrical history, “Me And Orson Welles” takes viewers behind the scenes and back in time to 1937 New York City at the famed Mercury Theater. We see the film through the eyes of aspiring teenage actor, Richard (Zac Efron). The late, great Orson Welles (Christian McKay) is portrayed as a dictator of the theater and a womanizer to many.
Welles almost has a mob-air surrounding him since he gets away with behavior most wouldn’t, like using an ambulance to get around the city quickly, and always getting his way on stage and off. Young Richard seems to be standing on a constant edge of wanting to model himself after Welles or hating him; all the while he’s looking to make a name for himself in the business, and grab the attention of Welles’ assistant, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes).
The film, based off the novel of the same name by Robert Kaplow, is an introspective look at how quickly that first show of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater came together, and just how fast it almost fell apart. In between all of those rehearsals and arguments between Welles and his company, Richard is dealing with his teenage hormones, vulnerability, and sacrificing himself for stardom.
Efron does a bang-up job of grabbing the essence of the time period and still keeping his bubbling, blue-eyed youth on the surface. It offers a little more depth to his so far bubblegum career, which makes us wonder what other layers of Efron have we yet to explore.
Christian McKay does ruthless well, and after only ten minutes watching him, I believed he was Orson Welles. He delivered so many lines worth quoting, and he delivered them with conviction. Claire Danes played the ambitious, hot and cold character of Sonja well–the audience truly feels conflicted with her throughout the movie.
“Former heartthrobs can fall far when they attempt to make the leap into the big leagues,” CNN declares in a story about “High School Musical” star Zac Efron.
Maybe so, but many Disney Channel tweens have often gone on to successful adult careers. There’s Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, to name a few. But while Disney’s programming may not have crossover appeal, the cable network’s knack for finding and nurturing young talent is unparalleled.
Any insinuation that Efron won’t make it to the big leagues reflects thinking that isn’t big enough.
“Geez, the small mindedness around here!” his character in “Me and Orson Welles” might say.
Indeed, Efron’s turn in “Me and Orson Welles” is proof he not only can crossover into adult entertainment, but that his presence will be a welcome one. Efron, after all, isn’t just a pretty face, like say, Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, who thus far seems richer in looks than in talent. Efron has both genetic goods and he’s a polished performer—maybe too polished—as his every expression sparkles with intent.
After a recent screening, ‘Orson’ director Richard Linklater told the audience, “Zac’s a leading man, a gifted performer. I would never underestimate him,” adding, “he’s a poker player—he’ll take your money.”
There is no shortage of irony in the parallels between Efron and his character, Richard Samuels, a teenage boy who wants to ditch school for a glamorous acting career. Richard’s journey from schoolboy to accomplished actor in many ways mirrors Efron’s own coming of age.
Cocksure and vulnerable at the same time, you can watch Efron grow up on the screen.
After Richard talks his way into Orson Welles’ production of “Julius Caesar,” he gets into trouble with his mother for sneaking home after midnight. When the older guys on set mess around, discussing their various exploits, Richard listens as if being instructed.
Claire Danes plays Richard’s love interest, Sonja Jones, whose stop-at-nothing ambition precludes her from getting entangled in a real romance. But Richard doesn’t stop trying.
“So what’s it like to be a beautiful woman?” he asks.
“Oh I hate the way I look,” she replies. “I’m a catalog of faults.”
“Name me one fault,” he challenges.
“My left breast is smaller than my right,” she says.
“Have you got a ruler?”
When Sonja rejects him for an older man who promises her a promotion, Richard is incredulous. “He’s old,” he says, repulsed.
“He’s offering a managerial position,” she explains. “What are you offering?”
“Wealth, travel, fame,” he says. “I can take you to moves that have all that.”
The way Efron delivers that line, with bright blue eyes and a sly smile, you actually begrudge Danes’s character for rejecting him.
Efron’s scenes with the stellar Christian McKay, whose portrayal of Welles is uncanny, explode with tension and repartee. In each other, Welles and his protege have met their match. Though they are years apart, Samuels has proven himself every bit Welles’ equal.
And in real life, Efron can celebrate his graduation from high school.
The Faster Times
As if anything with “Orson Welles” in the title weren’t already rarified enough, this light and bright adaptation of Robert Kaplow’s historical novel, by screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo for director Richard Linklater, actually is pitched more for theater geeks than for movie geeks. But somehow, from the tale of a wannabe thespian bluffing his way into Welles’ landmark 1937 staging of “Julius Caesar,” the de facto slacker spokesperson Linklater has educed a universally compelling psychology of megalomania. His trick is to fold an avid study of play-making within the ostensible trifle of a golden-hued Zac Efron vehicle. And before you choke on laughter, consider Linklater’s longstanding knack for casting, which culminates here with a magnificently satisfying turn from Christian McKay as the best Welles (besides the original) that movies might ever give us. Next to him, Efron’s twinkling cipher seems like just what’s needed. And Claire Danes, in a fulcrum role, sparkles too.
There’s a great deal of arrogance buried inside the title of Richard Linklater’s latest, Me and Orson Welles, as if anyone, let alone some bright-eyed kid named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), could ever hope to compete with one of the 20th century’s undisputed geniuses. Clearly, one is never actually with such a man, and with absolute certainty, he’s unlikely to ever stoop to notice that you’re in the vicinity. Choose a context or location, fevered or relaxed, and he’ll always be several steps ahead, and just as likely would have considered and dispensed with your position before your mind started the process. He’s of the few men who won’t ever be out-hustled, even while in the prone position. His talent is so all-encompassing, in fact, that he’s able to strike a blow, knock you flat, and score a pin, all before he enters the room. Such is that special brand of genius that strips you naked with defeat by reputation alone. Actual effort is simply the cherry on top, perhaps that last, best source of amusement. Given this titanic legacy, the only thing that really matters in a movie like this is casting; every shred of potential interest will rise or fall on the selected actor in question. Settle for mere impersonation, and the story flies off the rails as a one-joke distraction. Insist on the familiar face, and the audience remains aloof, always aware of the fantasy, which quickly devolves into the ridiculous.
Here’s to masterful casting. Christian McKay, a British actor heretofore unknown to, well, just about everyone who pays even half-hearted attention to the movies, is not only the best possible Orson Welles, he just might be the goddamn resurrection. I’ve seen a great deal of movies in my time, including hundreds of bio-pics, period recreations, and docudramas, but McKay’s Orson now stands alone as the best realization of a historical figure in the history of film. In possession of his physical bearing, facial structure, and, good lord, the voice, McKay all but had me convinced they’d spliced in lost footage from the archives and passed it off as performance. It’s beyond uncanny, it’s exhilarating, as if modern audiences could, at long last, spend a few days and nights with a truly unique American figure, raw and uncensored. Though Christian’s personal finances may disagree, I would strongly urge Mr. McKay to take stock, consider a life’s work complete, and never act again. Like the man he inhabits down to his marrow, he could have that indelible moment when no one has done it better, and not bother to invite comparison. An Oscar would surely prevent such a rush to blissful anonymity, but I’m rooting for him anyway. Knowing the Academy, and because it is more than deserved, the role will likely be ignored altogether. Welles lost his to Gary Cooper, a man more cigar store Indian than actor, so at least he’s in good company at the loser’s table.
The rest of the movie, if it even matters, feels bloodless and feeble whenever McKay steps away from the action, which is a shame, because it’s not as bad as it sounds. Sure, Efron is a preposterous presence in any movie, let alone facing a man like McKay, but he’s somehow right as a dopey kid whose idealism and plucky ambition seem to foreshadow the YouTube generation, where fame has become the ultimate civil right. Young Richard will never make it, of course, at least if a lasting impact is sought, but he’s just dim enough to make a career of hackwork. Men like Richard spend their careers regurgitating mediocrity for their supper, while the Orsons of the world strike but once, chasing that initial high until they go mad. It’s this contrast that speaks so well to the sadness of life, in that talent, vision, and creativity must bite their tongues as they cede the landscape to the decidedly average. No wonder Welles threw it all away for a three-decade eating binge and commercial prostitution. After all, if you claim to have lived your entire life without disappointment or compromise, you’ve only ended up a bad liar. Still, one must be glad Welles is but a supporting player, much as The Third Man would have emptied seats had Harry Lime not waited in the shadows for just the right moment. That’s another thing about geniuses: better they keep appearances to a minimum, lest they remind us too often of our shortcomings.
Blog: Adam Gehrke
17 year old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) is high school student with a silver tongue and the ability to act. Given his natural talents, Richard smooth talks his way into a production of Julius Caesar shifting his life into the fast lane. This is after all no ordinary theatre production, this is an Orson Welles (Christian McKay) production and, the creative genius, arrogance, and idiosyncratic behaviour of a young Welles is in top form. Helping Richard stay afloat is Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), a young actress with dreams of success of her own. When a love triangle is set between Orson, Sonja and Richard tensions rise and the play is put in jeopardy. Will the production go on, what about the budding romances, and how will the careers of all involved pan out?
Hauntingly accurate acting by all accounts from McKay adds an extra fine shine to this already polished gem. Meanwhile, fine acting from all others in the ensemble really make this a delight to watch and prompt the viewer to wonder what might be truth or fiction. Visually interesting directing from Richard Linklater, just the right amount of humor and fun nods to other film from the period add to the experience. Fun for a date and worth seeing.
Feeling more like a “hit” than any film the towering director was ever part of, Me And Orson Welles is a breezy nostalgia piece that never feels slight, thanks to the genius of Welles that hangs over the film with a weighty spirit. Brought to life by little-known actor Christian McKay, the film captures Welles at an early career highpoint, bringing a controversial 1937 Shakespeare production to Broadway. This is Welles before headline-grabbing War of the Worlds broadcast and the convention-shattering Citizen Kane; he was young, bursting with talent and ready to shock the world. Director Richard Linklater captures the buoyant optimism of a country and a young man on the upswing with a giddy atmosphere that sets his film radically apart from the heavy doom and gloom that infests movie screens everywhere these days.
From his low-tech beginnings with Slacker, Linklater has quietly developed into a versatile observer of oddball characters. He’s finished ten features this decade and from Jack Black’s best vehicle School of Rock to the surprisingly moving sequel Before Sunset and his hallucinogenic philosophy lesson Waking Life, Linklater fills his films with chatty, unsatisfied eccentrics chasing a dream. Welles fits into this perfectly, here seen through the eyes of Richard (High School Musical star Zac Efron), a high school actor who bluffs his way into a small role in Welles’ legendary 1937 adaptation of Julius Caesar. A daring production that used modern dress to evoke the rising Fascism of Mussolini’s Italy, we watch as the rehearsals survive flood, bankruptcy and the inevitable clash of egos before making Broadway history. Efron doesn’t make much of his role, like a young Dean Jones he gets by on that slick Disney geniality (even the short bit of singing he does sounds Boy Band-y) but the film is more about what Richard witnesses than who he is.
Much of the action is drawn from the typical cliches of backstage dramas (nerve-struck actors, dressing room Lotharios) yet Linklater has assembled a cast, mostly drawn from the British stage, who breathe life into the lean, smart script (penned by Vincent and HollyPalmo and based on the young adult novel by Robert Kaplow). Claire Danes plays Sonja, Richard’s knowing older lover (its nice to see her shaking that colt-ishness and finally looking womanly) and Zoe Kazan oozes a pleasant sweetness as his budding writer friend but it is this British actors who really get across the snappy rhythmic patter we come to expect from people of the era. For Welles’ buffs, there’s added fun that it is future Citizen Kane stars Joseph Cotten (a suave James Tupper) and George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin) swept up in the hi-jinks as the ramshackle production lurches towards it’s premiere, opening in the shadow of a much-stodgier Shakespearean production, Anthony and Cleopatra with Tallulah Bankhead (which famously received the review “Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra—and sank.”).
Linklater has become surprisingly adept at zippy mainstream comedies and the film would succeed as a sweet lark if it weren’t for the giant standing at its center. Christian McKay does the near-impossible task of embodying Welles, capturing not just his voice and cadences but putting together the contradictory facets of the man, the pomposity and the humility, and assembling something that resembles a real person. Richard rides sidecar whille Welles recites passages from Booth Tarkington’s Magnificent Ambersons, breezes through his radio performance of The Shadow and cajoles the actors with good advice, magic tricks and wonderfully eloquent bluster. And when it is time to get onstage to perform as Brutus, McKay makes you feel like you’re in the presence of greatness. McKay’s full-bodied portrayal alone makes Me and Orson Welles a must-see for film buffs, its almost like stealing Welles’ ghost for one last show. With McKay’s performance being such a marvel one last fact stayed with me: it takes the thirty-five year old McKay to command the authority that Welles once wielded as Brutus when he was the tender age of twenty-two. Same age asZac Efron is now, which might be an unfair comparison but could any actor today under twenty-five play Charles Foster Kane convincingly, let alone direct the damn thing?
Richard Linklater’s latest film sees Orson Welles (having already taken the airwaves by storm on radio) perched on the brink of conquering the stage, starting with his production of Shakespeare’s classic history play Julius Caesar, set to be performed at the Mercury Theatre on Broadway. The ‘me’ of the title is teenager Richard (Zac Efron), the audience’s window onto the theatrical world of Welles and his company.
The casting of Efron in this particular role (a serious part and one lacking the squeaky, shiny happiness of the High School Musical franchise from which Efron made his name) may surprise a few, but Efron delivers a solid and utterly convincing performance as Richard, the young man who falls under Welles’ beguiling charms and finds himself part of the cast, playing Lucius, Brutus’ (played by Welles himself) servant boy and resident ukulele player. Efron, as previously mentioned, demonstrates that he is clearly a young actor blessed with multiple talents, being able to perform like an old Hollywood star with skill in singing, dancing and acting – the former and latter of which are on display here. Efron’s credible performance will with any luck silence harsher critics often out for his blood.
Claire Danes is as good as ever, in a role that pleasingly sees her in a bitchier role than usual with a character more reminiscent of Sookie in Igby Goes Down than the pure Juliet (William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet). However, as good as Efron and Danes’ performances are, the film belongs to relative newcomer Christian McKay in a role he was seemingly born to play. It is no wonder by playing someone as egocentric, selfish and charismatic as Welles that he steals the show – he has a bewitching way of drawing the audience to him – but his performance is of such tremendous excellence, vivacity and believability that any scene without him is left wanting and rendered almost flat, lacking the energy his performance brings to the piece – something which becomes almost detrimental to the film as a whole. However, come awards season, McKay presents himself as a dead cert for acting nominations.
The story is an interesting one, avoiding the now saturated genre of biopics and concentrating on the character of Orson Welles in one specific time period. Linklater’s 1930s setting is convincing and well produced, with exquisite art direction that passes the Isle of Man for New York city. Linklater has produced an entertaining and enjoyable film in Me & Orson Welles, however a problem is posed by a rather languorous third act, an almost plodding final section which could perhaps have been avoided by better editing. The last few minutes really do slow down proceedings, a great shame in a film that is otherwise funny, intelligent, entertaining and engaging.
So back from seeing Me and Orson Welles and I enjoyed it, all of the actors are great the obvious stand out being Christian McKay who delivers an almost note perfect performance as Orson Welles, he was so good he made me want go immediately home and re-watch the Third Man. Another performer I'd like to mention is Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd who stole almost every scene he was in.
The story is a pretty typical coming of age tale for Zac Efron's character Richard who almost purely by chance lands a small role in Orson Welles' production of Caesar and learns a few lessons in life and love taught to him by McKay's Orson and Claire Danes' Sonja. Efron's performance in the lead role is as strong as everyone else's. One of the real pluses for me was the depiction of New York in the film, and the art direction and feel of the film is almost like a warm blanket. Richard Linklater's direction is also top notch.
So all in all a very decent film, if your a fan of Orson Welles you may even think he's come back from the dead for one last movie role. I'm very happy to give this film Full Price, higly recommended.
A week in the life of a player in 1937, those early days of Orson Welles’ famed Mercury Theatre, might sound like it can’t encompass much, but you may be forgetting just what a towering figure Welles was. After seeing this film, you won’t seen forget it; nor will you soon forget Christian McKay who plays him. Zac Efron, as the young actor swept up into the maelstrom of the Mercury Theatre, may be the lead in this film, but McKay is most definitely the star. McKay has the ungovernable fire, the burning eyes, the imperious tone, and the ticking brain box of Welles down. In this script he is endowed by every other character with a panoply of larger-than-life qualities and he portrays them all without ever turning into a cartoon. His performance alone merits a viewing.
Efron seems to me to be beginning to travel the Johnny Depp career path, and I hope he is as fortunate as Mr. Depp in doing so. After High School Musical (21 Jump Street, anyone?) he has generally made choices that demand he produce more than just another singing dreamboat. In this film, no one responds to him as if he is anything special, as if he doesn’t have a laser-cut facial structure, and we get to see him act. His interactions with a young, ambitious writer (Zoe Kazan) aren’t about him charming her off her feet, but her passion inspiring him. His Richard is earnest, eager, young, positive, and full of trust. We care about this kid and he humanizes the surreality of his adventure in Welles’ orbit. Claire Danes warns him to guard himself from Welles, but not from her charms. She plays her part with a mellow, womanly confidence and wise resignation, it’s an interesting fence between self-actualized and beholden that she straddles. Ben Chaplin plays George Coulouris, a real-life actor who went on to be in Welles’ seminal 1941 film Citizen Kane. Chaplin nails that particular transatlantic cadence that marks the period (he, like Coulouris, is British) and gives us a sense of the rest of the cast in the shadows of their director and star.
The film centers around the week before opening of Welles’ daring production of Shakespeare’s (Julius) Casear. He takes very modern artistic liberties during the very fecund 1930’s and defines his career and character thus. A member of my audience actually saw this production when he was a child. He said he didn’t remember much, but he did recall the impact of the uniforms. I am still jealous. The late 1930’s was such a rich time for the arts, with the WPA and the responses to WWI and the Depression and Black Friday and the news coming over from Europe about fascism on the rise. It’s an exciting time in history and an exciting week in Richard’s life as well. Me and Orson Welles speaks of the transformative power of creating art and the power of those who can create it over others. It’s also a little coming of age, a little romance, and a lot of enjoying the spectacle of Welles and Caesar.
Robert Kaplow’s novel was inspired by a photograph from this play of an unknown actor playing lute next to Welles in a scene. The film isn’t pat, it isn’t aimless, and it isn’t epic. It’s just a nice tidy wondering about that bit player and what his life must have been like, with the sweet aftertaste of a fable. What surprised me the most about this film is that it was directed by Richard Linklater, a man whose work almost universally bores me. All my usual issues with Linklater (dialogue, pacing) are gone here and as a result I got to really enjoy the story. I thrilled to my geeky bones over all the delicious period details and the visceral emulation of the chaos of a disorganized theatre production. Me and Orson Welles taken as a whole isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is a well made, nicely-performed fable about art and self-actualization and theatre. It’s worth a look.
Blog: The Greatest Trick
Orson Welles is a very difficult character to portray convincingly. Many actors have made a stab at it, some more successfully than others. However, relative newcomer Christian McCay’s take absolutely nails it and is surely worthy of an Oscar nomination. Everything one expects Welles to be – witty, likeable, inspiring, flamboyant, selfish, egotistical, cruel, womanising, possibly mad, yet also a genius and artistically brilliant – is summarised in his portrayal.
Based on Robert Kaplow’s novel, the film is very much a coming of age story. Young actor Richard Samuels (Zac Effron) wins the role of Lucius in the Mercury Theatre’s legendary 1937 production of Julius Caesar, in which Welles adapted the famous Shakespeare play by stripping it down to ninety minutes and innovatively making it into a statement about fascism (complete with 1930s Nazi type uniforms, and so forth). Once Richard has the role he becomes attracted to Welles’ ambitious assistant Sonja (Claire Danes), but is disturbed when it becomes apparent that Welles, who was already being unfaithful to his pregnant wife through affairs with cast members, wants to seduce her.
Beyond the afore-mentioned Christian McCay, the rest of the performances are all good. Zac Effron in particular is developing into a fine lead actor and Claire Danes is wonderful as usual. The rest of the cast all do well in bit parts – especially Ben Chaplin. Director Richard Linklater, best know for films like Slacker, Dazed and Confused and School of Rock, directs with a deft hand and has crafted a satisfying backstage drama.
It is unfortunate therefore, that the dubious sexual morality contained herein is not really criticised, although those familiar with Welles and his subsequent life will perhaps find it easier to contextualise. Spiritually there isn’t a great deal else to note, suffice to say Richard’s journey from optimism to disillusionment and finally wisdom is a bumpy one.
In short – a fine watch, particularly for Christian McCay’s portrayal of the enigma that was Orson Welles.
Blog: When Falls the Coliseum
Gail D. Rosen
Removed at request of their site editor.
After the necessary rigours of The White Ribbon and A Solitary Man, it was a relief yesterday to watch Richard Linklater’s delightful Me and Orson Welles, which manages to be amusing but intelligent and involving without precipitating a crash course of the heart. Revolving around Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it sports excellent performances from Christian McKay as Welles, Claire Danes as his ambitious assistant, prepared, if necessary, to sleep her way to the top, and Zac Efron [scorned, I know, by my daughter for his part in the execrable High School Musical] as a young aspiring theatrical. Neither does it chicken out on staging scenes from the play, and very convincingly too. Recommended.
As a footnote, I was interested to see that Welles advertised his strongly edited version of Shakespeare’s play as simply Caesar, reminding me of the time I put on a much shortened school version of Shaw’s St Joan somewhat cheekily called St. Jo.
Blog: Joel Crary
I am conflicted over giving “Me and Orson Welles” a three-star rating. I liked it a bit more than such a rating suggests, but not enough to put it so near the realm of flawless. Like one who witnesses a theatrical performance from the planning stages through rehearsals, dress rehearsals and the knuckle-biting opening night, I wanted the film to go well, wanted to see it stand as an occasion of greatness, wanted it to be a show that would be remembered in 20 years and not forgotten. I’m not convinced that Richard Linklater has made such a film, but he has made a very good one.
Welles never saw himself as less than a figurehead. The only small details worth consideration were those in the performance, stagehand credits be damned. When New York City’s Mercury Theater opened in 1937, Welles, only 22, had already received renown for transforming Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a Haitian tragedy featuring an all-Black cast. He had further made headlines for staging Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock” off the cuff at another theatre after authorities had ruined that production’s opening night.
“Me and Orson Welles” is the story of the Mercury’s first effort, an adaptation of “Julius Caesar” performed in then-modern dress that referenced the rise of Hitler, with Welles in the role of Brutus. Welles is portrayed with uncanny sensibility by Christian McKay, no stranger to his mannerisms – he has been playing Welles in a one-man show since 2007. McKay is older than Welles would have been at the time, but he offers a startlingly effective compromise of the Welles that most identify with – brash, intelligent, charming and bigger than life.
Welles, of course, made “Citizen Kane”, idolized for its invention years after the fact and a good while after Welles was still considered relevant in the Hollywood system. The man has become symbolic of Hollywood’s inability to recognize genius, even though Welles certainly knew he had genius to offer. As McKay rehearses his players, complimenting them while shooting down their ideas, cutting their scenes on a whim while building their morale, one can see the particular type of genius in Welles’ ability to tell people what they want to hear, getting them to love him as they despise his tactics.
Welles takes notice of young Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) joking around with his players outside the Mercury and casts him in the role of Lucius. Samuels is still in high school and searching for steady ground. He forms a bond with Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), an assistant with stars in her eyes and Selznick on the brain, who prepares Richard for some of Welles’ more erratic behaviours. He becomes part of the Mercury family, he thinks, but is shortly made aware that Welles controls all. “The primary occupation of the Mercury Theater,” one actor explains, “is waiting for Orson.” As rehearsals continue, Welles is always aware of every small change, negotiating the speed and inflection of 30 people as though alphabetizing a library.
“Me and Orson Welles” boasts convincing performances. Everyone seems cast just right, especially McKay and actor James Tupper, immediately identifiable as Joseph Cotton. Playing an actor just getting his start, Efron isn’t given a great range to work with, but what he delivers is fine. And it’s amusing to see Danes as the older women, when it seems like only yesterday she was 16 and swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio in a altogether different Shakespeare production.
Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr.’s script routinely grounds the narrative in a relationship between Richard and Gretta (Zoe Kazan, Elia’s granddaughter), a young woman he encounters in a music shop. They fantasize about making names for themselves, he as an actor and she as a writer. Gretta has just finished a story featuring a young woman who goes to museums to feel better. She quotes a Keats poem, but stops at its most famous line. Richard asks her what her story is about and she responds: “Why does it have to be about something?”
Because it does. Welles was the man who cut the “to be or not to be” speech from his radio production of “Hamlet” because “it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.” Linklater’s film attempts the same but cheats. It acknowledges but, by virtue of its execution, ultimately sidesteps Welles’ artistic urge to make the production about more than it was by dragging it into different contexts and outfitting it with new and bold ideas. That’s the kind of film “Me and Orson Welles” could have been. Instead, it’s mostly pedestrian, a “Gee, wasn’t that swell” look at the time period, outfitted admirably but failing to nail its words to the back wall.
Linklater is an outstanding director, one of my favourites, but he has a peculiar tendency to recede into the background of his more commercial works like “Bad News Bears” and “School of Rock”. There is little to nothing of the man who put together “Waking Life” and “Tape” here. I liked the way his camera wandered into the Mercury and the radio station as though they were museum exhibits, treating every detail with reverence, and the opening night of “Julius Caesar” is well photographed by cinematographer Dick Pope, but there isn’t particularly anything visually alive about “Me and Orson Welles”. A pity, since for all his fiery egotism, Welles was a bona fide visionary. He would have been the perfect choice to organize a film like this.
Blog: Next Wednesday Instead
Richard Linklater, more then any other director working I think, has embraced the one for them, one for me policy to the point where its not even funny. For every A Scanner Darkly, Tape or Before Sunset there's a School of rock or a Bad News Bears. Its almost like the guy wants to make good films, and has no issue in making bad ones in order to make that happen. (Although I should admit to having a soft spot for School Of Rock, even if I know I shouldn't.) Me and Orson Welles is kind of a middle-ground between the two. There are elements of corporate man Linklater here, the staging of the play bit is beyond mainstream, and of course the casting of Zac Efron, but visually speaking you can see Linklater having a ball recreating the time and place, and while this is certainly looking at depression era America through rose-tinted glasses, it nonetheless is done so in an incredibly detailed and loving way.
I particularly enjoyed, the film itself aside, all the tween girls who'd wandered into this movie blindly following their icon Zac Efron, and ten minutes in realizing they had walked in to a film about Orson Welles staging a play in 1930's America. Needless to say there were a lot of bored looking teenage girls (and boys) in the audience. The film itself though, despite being lovingly realized is a little twee and self-satisfied, and for a film that goes on about great acting, it could have done with a little more of it. Efron isn't going to be brilliant, but he does his best even if he looks a little lost in the Shakespearean dialogue. Clare Danes looks happy to even be in a movie, given the pretty impressive vanishing act she's pulled in the last couple of years. Still she's serviceable, in a serviceable part. The film was going to essentially live or die on whoever played Orson Welles and how good they were. Newcomer Christian McKay, no doubt cast because of his physical similarity to Welles, which is admittedly very close, and his impersonation is good, but there's something slightly off in his charisma, which hits the OK range much more often then great, and for this film to be anything else other then a production designer's curio, he had to be brilliant. And he's not really. Thus condemning this movie to 6/10 purgatory where nobody remembers it exists in five years, a footnote on Linklater's career and possibly Efron's, if he has one long term.
Like I said before the production design and costumes are meticulously done, and Linklater clearly enjoyed shooting the period, but its just too formulaic and polite to be worth anything beyond polite interest. Linklater will come back with something great though, I'm sure of it.
Blog: Barnaby Walter
Serious actor or just a pretty face? This film, about Orson Welles’s famous Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar, proves Zac Efron may be both. He takes on the role of Richard, a young actor who becomes drawn into the world of the theatre when Welles needs a Ukulele player. His role may be a little too geared to his puppy-dog charm and sweet smile, but never are you reminded Troy Bolton or Wild Cats when he’s onscreen.
But Efron doesn’t steal the show from Christian McKay who, as Welles, makes next year’s competition for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar very exciting. He is utterly brilliant as Welles, the bold, occasionally cruel and always loud legend of theatre and screen. He avoids caricature, stamping his name into the film industry where it has previously been overlooked. As a whole, the film isn’t entirely successful, relying a little too much on a love-relationship between Efron and Claire Danes to move the story along. But for an evening of polished, lovingly crafted entertainment, this is certainly one of the highlights on the cinematic menu.