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The career of Richard Linklater has proved one of the most delightfully
eclectic in the film industry, veering between works as diverse as
teenage subculture films (Dazed and Confused) to philosophical romances
(Before Sunrise) to drug-addled paranoid thrillers (A Scanner Darkly)
to mainstream comedies (School of Rock). But even with such a varied
body of work, it is difficult to deny Linklater's latest still seeming
somewhat of an anomaly: a lighthearted period piece examining the
timeless figure of Orson Welles, making his name through a 1930s
theater production of Julius Ceasar still seems an odd about face even
for such a versatile director. And yet it is somewhat fitting that such
a whimsically talented modern director should examine one of cinema's
most legendary mavericks as Linklater's latest, Me and Orson Welles is
a charming addition to his body of work, a breezy, self- reflexive yet
nostalgic celebration of the mediums of performance as experienced
alongside one of the most dynamic and influential figures ever to
The agile script ably captures the conflicting clashes of the behemoth of a personality that was Orson Welles, from the explosive temper tantrums to the slyly manipulative charm to the casual womanizing, painting a vivid (but likely not larger than life) portrait of the man without either romanticizing or demonising him. It is ultimately the presence of the titular character which rescues the film from becoming yet another "cast rehearsing a play" film, as the dynamo of Welles tearing through the film at all the least expected moments creates a sporadic force of havok keeping the film continually off kilter, preventing it from descending into cliché and keeping it consistently interesting as consequence. While the story's lightness of touch does make some of the plot points either overly obvious or unbelievable, a film so unassumingly enjoyable fails to evoke much complaint - whether dabbling in the dramatic or the comedic, Me and Orson Welles remains refreshingly cheerful and earnest, and all the better for it. Completing the package, Linklater's rare tackling of a period piece demonstrates his typically astute ability to capture the feel and flavour of the times, with the earnest ambition of the 1930s well complimented by subtly stylish sets and costumes while simultaneously avoiding beating the audience over the head with more overt details of the time (instead of the potential hackneyed Nazi allusions, Linklater includes merely a brief radio snippet which is quickly cut off, a classy and subtle inclusion).
Undergoing a difficult transition from teenage heartthrob to dramatic lead, Zac Efron gives a surprisingly solid performance as the idealistic young actor swept into the wild world of Welles, convincingly contributing charm, comedy and genuine sympathy to the emotional centerpoint of the film. However, given the title, it isn't difficult to imagine the inevitable highlight of the show, and true enough, as the infamous Welles, British stage actor Christian McKay doesn't so much steal scenes as seize and throttle them, exploding on screen with the same engrossing bluster that only the real Welles himself could conjure up. Blending the conflicting elements of an indisputably difficult character as easily as he nails the trademark voice and appearance, McKay's Welles alternates between devilish charmer and explosive force to be feared, shaking up the film with similar vigour and nuanced genius - one of the most impressive cinematic debuts in recent memory. Claire Danes is also on top form as a good hearted but endlessly ambitious member of Welles' company, and Ben Chaplin and James Tupper are endearing presences as eccentric members of Welles' calamitous company.
As unconventional a project as it may be, Me and Orson Welles remains one of the most unashamedly lighthearted and enjoyable forays into nostalgia in many a year, breezily blending the serious with the silly while never skimping on historical fact. The addition of McKay's brilliantly combustive Welles make the theatrical rehearsal sequences a joy to behold instead of drearily formulaic, making Linklater's latest film a charm to behold for even the most cynical of audiences.
Considering the fanatic cult following that Richard Linklater has
developed with films like Waking Life, Before Sunrise/Sunset, and A
Scanner Darkly, let me preface this review by saying that I'm not a
Linklater devotee. If Linklater is endowed with a species of genius, I
must confess complete ignorance to it. Indeed, my favorite Linklater
film was School of Rock, and he has always impressed me more by the
breadth of his work and his willingness to challenge the conventions of
film than by any individual film. It's perhaps this maverick spirit
that drew him to do a film about Orson Welles.
Me and Orson Welles, based on a novel by Robert Kaplow, tells the story of a teenager, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), who is swept from learning about Shakespeare in the classroom to the fast paced world of the Mercury Theater on Broadway when he lands a role in Orson Welles famous 1937 production of Caesar. As Orson Welles struggles to get the production ready for the premier, Richard falls for the theater's resident hottie, a charming and ambitious aspiring actress played by Claire Daines, and finds himself growing up quickly to the realities of show business and the real world.
The movie is entirely carried by it's acting, and the actor generating the most buzz is the British born Christian McKay who plays Welles. I'm very uneasy about praising portrayals of real life figures, because it seems any time an actor plays any historical figure (from Gandhi to Capote and Idi Amin) they receive excessive attention. I think it has less to do with the "acting" involved than it has to do with the fact that most audiences feel much more comfortable passing judgment (and bestowing praise) on mimicry than actual acting. That said, McKay does a masterful job in capturing that mythical image of a young Orson Welles that all of us film geeks have in our head, from the striking resemblance in appearance to the pitch perfect intonations in his voice. Welles is charming and maddening, endearing and brutal, and always larger than life... and McKay captures it all perfectly. It's clearly a role that McKay has been mastering for a long time, as he was doing a one-man-show about Welles on Broadway before being snatched for the role in Me and Orson Welles. From the Q&A session (at the Toronto international film festival), McKay seemed intelligent and passionate about his work, and I truly hope he doesn't get pigeon-holed into spoofing Welles for his entire career.
Unfortunately the other acting foot that the movie stands on, isn't nearly as good. Zac Efron is just so pretty (and I say this as a heterosexual male) that it becomes distracting. Watching Efron act, it feels like he's trying to make women orgasm in every scene he's in, which works well in enough in the many scenes he's trying to court Claire Daines's character, but doesn't work in any other scene. Efron's acting makes it hard for the audience to emotionally connect and prevents the movie from achieving the emotional punch it might otherwise. The audience is never drawn in and they remain spectators, which, fortunately, isn't such a bad thing since the movie is so fun and nostalgically charming. Perhaps even the flighty and ethereal feeling the film gets because of it's lack of punch can be forgiven, since it's a movie about youth and growing up and so much of that involves tempestuous passions that end up being quite meaningless in retrospect.
Orson Welles is alive and well and residing in the body of British
actor Christian McKay! McKay is simply stunning here as Welles - the
look, the eye-brow, the mannerisms, the bounce, the voice - never have
i seen Welles, as a character, better done. Many have tried few have
succeeded (although i have a soft spot for Vincent D'Onofrio's
Welles-cameo in Ed Wood.
The same can be said in general for Richard Linklater's film in terms of featuring Welles and using the whole "putting on a show" theatrical device. I didn't like Oliver Parker's Fade To Black with Danny Huston hamming Welles. RKO 281 was solid and Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock was a noble, if unsatisfyingly drear effort. Aided by McKay's towering achievement, a (mostly) superb supporting cast and a deft lightness Linklater has delivered his best film in years.
To my mind he can be hit (Dazed & Confused, Before Sunrise) and miss (A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation), but this is firmly in the hit category.
Other non-Welles films, such as Kenneth Branagh's In The Bleak Mid-Winter, have failed in their attempts to have fun at "putting on a show" format because they are too in love with moments that have that "you just had to be there" element. Christopher Guest made a go of it in Waiting For Guffman, but then he was mocking the pretensions so many others embrace as part of the scene. Somehow McKay's (as Welles) enormous personality and Linklater's breezy "makes it look so easy" style make you feel like you are there in Me & Orson Welles and it works to great effect - tantalising the viewer with moments and flashes of the play to come without giving it to you until the right time. The 'Me' of the title really becomes the viewer. You are swept along me both filmmaker and Orson (and it really does feel like Orson. After a few moments i never doubted the Linklater had somehow resurrected Welles and saddled him with Zac Efron!) And this brings me the film's one real problem (and surely a marketing nightmare for the distributors!) Now i'm no Efron hater, i haven't seen any of the HSM movies, but he was fine in both Hairspray and 17 Again but here he has to register in a fantastic ensemble of actors and he simply doesn't. Admittedly he is hamstrung a little by the role. Since the story and Linklater's direction make the viewer feel like 'Me' observing Welles as he creates his legendary production of Julius Caesar and the Mercury theatre company it is easy to kind of forget about Efron's Richard, or at least to dismiss him as Welles so often does. He just makes no impression at all. He's not bad he's just not really significant.
This leads to the inevitable problem that as we reach the films final act, once the play is done and Welles is off screen you feel like the movie is over. You've seen everything there is to see here, it is time to move along. But no, because Efron's story is unresolved so we get another 10 minutes of him and his ending. But you simply don't care. Once McKay/Welles had gone off with his supporting cast the movie was over, it just didn't know it! Amongst the supporting cast Claire Danes continues in display as easy charm, effortlessly likable and curiously beautiful in her quirky angular way. Zoe Kazan (last seen in Revolutionary Road) is a delight as the underused other woman in Efron's life (although if she'd been used more it would have meant more Efron, less Welles so maybe that's a blessing in disguise). James Tupper is excellent as Joseph Cotten, a great match for McKay's Welles. If they ever (God forbid) remake The Third Man they have the cast! Ben Chaplin is also marvellous as George Couloris. I'm constantly impressed by Chaplin and have no idea why he isn't a bigger name. Kelly Reilly doesn't have much to do but look gorgeous, which, naturally, she does with ease. Eddie Marsan seems miscast as John Houseman. I like Marsan but he didn't fit the bill for me here.
Ultimately this is McKay's show. He gives an electrifying performance at the center of a movie that while it is about Welles efforts to put on Julius Caesar is a charming, funny and swift-paced joy; but unfortunately it also has to make space for Zac Efron and his own storyline and there-in lie the flaws.
How you market this i don't know! I can't imagine Efron fans getting excited about a film set in the 1930s about the creation of an historic theatrical production staged by a man who's been dead for 25 years! And on the flipside i nearly didn't see it because i dismissed it, on first awareness, as a Zac Efron movie and so not for me. Only on a second invitation did i notice it was directed by Linklater (always interesting, if not always successful) which charged my want to see it.
Ultimately though if you want to see it because you're an Efron fan, well go see it because your guy's in it and because you'll get to see something a bit different from what you're used it. And maybe you'll like it. If you're not an Efron fan, never fear, you can all but forget he's there and just enjoy Linklater at his breezy best and the best performance of Welles on screen since the great man departed this earth (and took possession of McKay!)
I expected this film to be a slight disappointment, but I was quite
wrong about that!! The reason I was worried was Zac Efron. I'm a huge
fan of Orson Welles and got very excited when I heard a film about the
Caesar production was being made, but I thought this was too big a step
for Efron. However he proved himself more than capable, and gives a
very strong performance as Richard Samuels - a teenager who finds
romance everywhere in life and yearns to act in bigger productions than
school plays... who chances on Orson Welles and manages to talk/sing
his way into Caesar.
Christain Mckay's performance as Orson Welles is equally impressive, as is Clare Danes as the ambitious yet charming Sonya Jones, and what's more the period (1930s New York) is captured brilliantly in the film, with great attention paid to language, location and costume.
In short: very, VERY entertaining and should appeal to a wide demographic - including Zac fans and doubters alike!!
Me and Orson Welles is a wonderful story of a young boy (Efron)whose
only acting experience is in high school musicals (ha! See what they
did there) who manages to get a small part in Orson Welles' (Adam
McKay) 1937 production of Julius Caesar. The film follows the volatile
relationship between Orson and his company. He is a madman, a selfish,
arrogant user and an absolute genius. He knows how the politics of
show-business and he knows people, and how to play them. However, for
all his antics, he is powerfully charismatic and it seems generally
accepted that he is a genius.
Christian McKay's performance here as Orson Welles is wonderfully broad as he goes through every one of Orson Welles persona's with equal relish. He is snappy and arrogant but at the same time warm enough to earn some affection so when he lets a character down, you feel just as played yourself. The rest of the cast were great too. Zac Efron does his best here to leap from Disney heartthrob to leading man, and I personally thought he was solid and likable, with just enough of a sparkle in his eye and just enough skill to keep it there.
Overall this film has a charming story, which ends on such a high note I didn't know whether to smile or cry. It also boasts a very strong cast and most importantly a sweet disposition that stayed with me for a good half hour after the credits rolled.
Orson Welles was, if nothing else, 'something. Even his detractors,
like Ingmar Bergman, said that he had an 'immense personality', and
this is what is a great appeal for an actor who can embody the full
emotions of the man, and look like him second. Richard Linklater, the
director, has an ace up his sleeve with the casting of Christian McKay-
an actor who is a relative newcomer in film- that is just about right.
It's actually a case where the actor, perhaps due to the
personality/character of the man he's portraying, upstages others
This is good (as is McKay, being in his 30's, making 22-at-the-time Orson appear or act older/wiser), since Welles is a man who could take over a room, and in fact was looked upon to do so with his Mercury theater players, who couldn't even do much rehearing or anything until he showed up. McKay goes into every little gesture or facial expression with gusto and, equally, some sublty when called for like when talking about his pet project of the Magnificent Ambersons.
It's almost so good a performance as Welles that you should see the movie just for him: fans of the director/actor/legend will want to see him brought to life and made in respectful homage, and non-fans will be marveled by a thespian bringing another thespian to life. There is a downside, however, in Linklater's casting (not so much with the supporting roles as they vary between being very good like the guy playing Joseph Cotten aka 'Joe the lady's man' to decent like Ben Chaplain as Coulouris) with Zak Efron. It's admirable that he's trying to get past his days of High School Musical and build up an actual career, but he doesn't breathe enough life into his coming-of-age character Richard to make him more than just passable. He's a cute kid, yet he's not really able to meet up to the dimensions of the character (which, to be fair, are kind of thin).
Linklater's film is inherently interesting dramatization just on the main subject matter: Welles and the Mercury theater putting on the daring production of Julius Caesar that would propel him and his troupe into the first real spotlight. However the film is most interesting and gets its main dramatic fire when it focuses on the rehearsals and some of the backstage antics (i.e. an accidental setting-off of the sprinklers by Richard fooling with matches), not so much the quasi-love story between Clare Danes' character with Efron. It's not got anything we haven't seen before, even in the sort of whimsical fable that Linklater lays out. The conclusion of their relationship is wise- as is how Welles 'deals' with Richard late in the film- but ultimately one kind of sighs and sits through a lot of so-so acting/pouting by Efron in order to get to the juicier scenes with Welles. But, as I mentioned before, it's worth a full-price pretty much on the basis of Welles and McKay. As Welles himself could be: exceptional and/or decent at once. 7.5/10
I have seen a couple of good reviews of Me and Orson Welles, so decided
to go and see whether they were merited. I'm pleased to report that the
film certainly impressed me.
The film focuses on the rehearsals and opening of the play Caesar starring Orson Welles in 1937. Nominally Zac Efron plays the lead as Richard Samuels who is almost 18 and yearning to become an actor. A chance encounter with Orson Welles outside the Mercury theatre leads to Richard being cast as Lucius. Welles was one of those larger than life characters who had so much talent that they could get away with having a rather inflated ego.
This is the first time I have seen Zac Efron on screen and I have got to say he played the role of the star struck teenager very nicely. The character is full of dreams and it certainly resonates long after the film has finished.
If Christian McKay does not get a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his Orson Welles portrayal it will be a travesty. He is quite simply superb. I've always found Claire Danes very engaging and she is also very good in this as are a number of the supporting cast including Ben Chaplin and Zoe Kazan.
If you are after traditional blockbuster fare from your movies then you are probably well advised to skip Me and Orson, but if you like an intelligent film that is well scripted, well directed (by Richard Linklater) and well acted then it's a must see.
The "me" in "Me and Orson Welles" is Richard (Zac Efron) a high school
student who gets himself a part in Orson Welles' production of Julius
Caesar at the Mercury Theatre. He's the kind of kid that loves
everything creative in the world, is romantic, and is confident and
sure of himself. Well, that is until he's alongside Orson Welles.
Christian McKay plays Welles as the cocky and out-spoken man that I'm
sure he was.
Directed by Richard Linklater, he has managed to turn this coming-of-age film into a Shakespearean theatrical production. My living room was transported into a theatre house, and I was watching a play. The lighting and score mirrored the production and its time; the actors were all right on cue; and backstage became the forefront.
This film is not a biopic, it's just the story of a young man discovering the acting world and the real world -- all alongside one of the most dramatic artists of the time. Romance was added to the storyline, along with a touch of self-discovery and world wonderment -- but that was done beautifully and softly. "Me and Orson Welles" is the perfect blend of coming-of-age and theatre.
Me and Orson Welles (2008), directed by Richard Linklater, is a fantasy
about a fantastic event--the famed Mercury Theatre production of
"Julius Caesar," directed by Orson Welles in 1937.
In the 21st Century, setting Shakespeare's plays in modern dress has become a cliché. More than 70 years ago, however, Welles' production, with its clear references to fascism, was bold and daring. It made theater history, and propelled Welles into the limelight.
Teen heartthrob Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, who is chosen by Welles for the small role of Lucius in the production. Zoe Kazan plays Gretta Adler, a young woman whom Richard meets in the New York Public Library. Claire Danes is Sonja Jones, Welles' assistant, who is rising in the theater world through a combination of intelligence, beauty, devotion to Welles, and her willingness to get into bed with anyone who can help her career.
Effron is outgoing and attractive, Kazan is shy and attractive, and Danes again shows why she was able to captivate TV audiences in "My So-Called Life," and then move on to immense Hollywood success. (Those who know "My So-Called Life" can recognize some of the interesting techniques that Danes developed then, and has since perfected.)
The highest honors in the film, however, belong to Christian McKay, who portrays Welles, and who stars as Brutus in the production. He has an uncanny resemblance to Welles, and his acting in the movie captures the qualities for which Welles was famous--incredible talent and incredible egotism.
Me and Orson Welles is not a truly great or classic film, but it's not fluff, and it's a perfect choice if you want to see an interesting movie about interesting people. The production values are very high, the sets capture New York City in the 1930's, and the acting is wonderful.
We saw this movie on a hotel flat-screen TV . It would probably work better on a large screen, but the small screen version worked well enough. It's definitely a movie worth finding and seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I saw that Richard Linklater had a new film at the Toronto
International Film Festival and that it took place during Orson Welles'
run at the Mercury Theatre, I was very interested. Me and Orson Welles
is based off a novel which creates a fictional character to be our
entry point into the tumultuous world of Welles' troupe, attempting to
get a performance of Julius Caesar out the gate. Young Richard Samuels
finds and cons his way into a small part with the play, meeting the
likes of Joseph Cotton, George Coulouris, and Welles all before Citizen
Kane made them Hollywood players. Centering on a more specific period
of time, not sprawling out to multiple plot lines like Robbins' opus,
Me and Orson Welles is an authentic view of that time period, a
veritable time capsule of Welles' ego before he had the film industry
in the palm of his hand.
I've never seen High School Musical or Hairspray, but just looking at Zac Efron you can't help but think nothing good could come of his casting. In my shocking surprise, he was actually quite good, and possibly perfect in the role. The entire film hinges on his believability as a cocky yet talented high schooler that talks his way onto a high profile performance while he should be taking pop quizzes. This teen is unafraid to speak his mind and truly believes that he deserves the same respect as anyone else on the project, even if that means standing up to the giant that is Orson Welles. He is a kid, though, and he's naïveté comes out at numerous times, mostly to humorous effect. Embroiled in a five dollar bet with Cotton and Norman Lloyd about who can sleep with secretary Sonja first, when Richard's chance finally happens, his shyness and awkwardness add a nice slapstick comedic feel. Efron actually has a good handle on his facial expressions, helping both effectively add to the comedy while also to the realism of the time period we are watching, as far as acting style went back thenover the top and hammy.
This kid becomes a big part of Welles' life in the story. The master takes him under his wing to show the ropes of theatre, drama, and radio, grooming him with superfluities and compliments. What Richard doesn't yet realize is the cutthroat nature of the industry and how everyone will lie, cheat, and steal to get what he wants. The boy's relationships blossom with the actors and Sonja, allowing him to comfortably make a name for himself in Broadway with them. He just can't learn that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and give into someone who can't to appease them and further your own career. Richard is young though and he doesn't yet feel this is it for him, the end all be all. So, when some might think a brazen attitude and confidence could be a necessary trait in theatre, a man like Welles will have none of it. Why would a man like him want a mirror held up to his face? No, he is the leader and you will listen.
It is a shame that whenever someone is called upon to play Orson Welles, it always ends up being a caricature or impersonation. It is true with Angus Macfadden in Cradle Will Rock and it is true here with newcomer Christian McKay, found in a one-man show doing the part and cast as a result. McKay is everything you'd think about with the legend, from the brash authoritative moods to the welcoming smiles charismatically pulling you in to do whatever he wants. Definitely more an embodiment of Welles himself than a performance of a character, you can't really fault him for it. A man that recognizable can only be done with impression and McKay does it to perfection.
As for the rest of the cast, everyone is great. Eddie Marsan is a stalwart and nice practical foil to Welles' mercurial genius; James Tupper knocks Joseph Cotton out of the park, playing a lothario that tries his best to shield Richard and help him stay in Welles' good graces; Leo Bill is a lot of fun as the improviser/comedian Lloyd; and Claire Danes likable as the object of everyone's affection Sonja. There is also Zoe Kazan as the writer Richard meets one day at a record shop. She is the one link he has to the real world, grounding him away from the chaos and narcissism the acting lifestyle brings. A real person, with goals and aspirations, her Gretta allows for the best relationship with Efron's character. It is a side-plot that one could say needed to be beefed up, but I actually think comprised just the right amount of time. Only coming back into the story every so often, it was a necessary juxtaposition to the craziness in the theatre, showing us the real Richard and not the act he put on to be a success.
The story is slight even though there is a lot going on. I would even agree that Linklater has crafted such a tight piece it seems simpler than it is because he makes it so. Some instances are so good, the poet Sinner in the play slowly being surrounded by silhouetted actors onstage, that I can't get the image out of my head. That said I might blame the fact I love Cradle Will Rock so much that this one just doesn't quite compare. Me and Orson Welles is a great film, highly recommended, but to me nothing glaringly special. It's just one of those films that I can praise over and over again for its parts, but when I think of the whole, realize that it never fully resonated with me past being a well-made, well-acted piece of cinema.
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