ME AND ORSON WELLES
Teenage actor Richard (Zac Efron) lands a role in Julius Caesar as it's being re-imagined by a brilliant, impetuous young director names Orson Welles (Christian McKay) at his newly-founded Mercury Theatre in New York, in 1937. The rollercoaster week leading up to opening night has the charismatic-but-sometimes-cruel Welles staking his career on this risky, updated production while Richard mixes with everyone from starlets to stagehands in behind-the-scenes adventures bound to change him.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The inventive and creative Richard Linklater takes on a challenge as great as Orson Welles did staging Julius Caesar in New York in 1937, in a Fascist setting. Welles, wonderfully characterised by Christian McKay, is the centre of his universe, and he has no doubts about his genius. When high school student Richard (Zac Efron) happens on the audition crowd in the street outside Welles' Mercury Theatre on 41st Street, he impresses Welles with his bravura and gets a minor role in the upcoming production. That was the easy part; now comes the turmoil and the emotional bullying that is unleashed by a gale force Welles.
Claire Danes plays the girl in admin who has serious ambitions in showbiz, and pursues them with single minded determination, much to Richard's dismay. He falls for her, as have all the other men in the show, but being a romantic, his interest is not lust alone. Danes is beautifully balanced in her portrayal, never overplaying the selfishness beneath the warm and supportive exterior which attracts Richard. Zac Efron's emotional roller coaster is the film's central journey, with Welles the driver of the ride.
Welles, whose womanising is a well kept secret, thunders around and makes life difficult for everyone, all forgiven for the sake of his brilliance. But McKay makes him real and likeable - an important element in the characterisation - and his flaws are simply as big as his talents.
Period design is outstanding and the staging of the play is engaging. We are invited to be benign voyeurs at a historic moment in the life of a creative legend, which is irresistibly fascinating.
What the film does well is the effortless creative talent that drove Welles, the negative aspects of it, and the positive things that Richard learns (not without pain). The top and tail subplot involving a budding writer Gretta Adler (Zoe Kazan) who meets Richard in a music store, is a smooth device which eases us to a satisfying conclusion.
Review by Louise Keller:
With little but a couple of TV credits to his name, newcomer Christian McKay grabs our attention and holds it as Orson Welles, the celebrated 20th century film director, actor, writer and producer with the distinctive voice and imposing personality. Not only does McKay give a great performance in this role of a lifetime, but he actually looks like the great Welles, himself. That, to begin with, gives Richard Linklater's film ballast. The 'Me' of the title is played equally impressively by Zac Efron, as a stage-struck schoolboy, passionate about plays, movies, songs, novels and radio and dreams of a life that includes them all.
The story, based on a novel by Robert Kaplow, recounts the chapter of his life in 1937 when Welles and partner John Houseman (magnificently played here by Eddie Marsan) ran the Mercury Theatre. Canvassing the staging of and the lead up to the opening night of their controversial first production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (in modern clothes), the film's great strength lies in creating an authentic reality that encompasses the era, the music and the personalities. We see what goes on - before and behind the curtains.
We immediately identify with Efron's 17 year old dreamer Richard, who is offered the role of Lucius opposite Welles' Brutus, after singing a Weeties ad jingle for his audition. He quickly learns there are rules, code words and taboos under the bombastic leadership of self-acclaimed brilliant Orson Welles, who must above all, never be criticised. Like Richard, our eyes are opened wide as we discover that this world is one in which lies and insincerities prevail. There are moral ambiguities and being used is par for the course. He goes from being called a magnificent 'God-created actor' to 'a talentless little sh*t'.
A wonderful coming of age story, intricately set in the world of theatre, Me and Orson Welles is a seductive film about dreams and betrayal. There is much more than a career on stage at risk. There are also matters of the heart and Welles' ambitious assistant Sonja (Claire Danes) becomes part of the stakes. Linklater handles the themes with such finesse, we are totally absorbed in the drama, the chaos and ultimately the applause, which may or may not be shallow, depending on your point of view.
Email this article
ME AND ORSON WELLES (PG)
CAST: Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Zac Efron, Ben Chaplin, Zoe Kazan, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Tupper
PRODUCER: Richard Linklater, Alan Carli, Marc Samuelson
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
SCRIPT: Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr (novel by Robert Kaplow)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dick Pope
EDITOR: Sandra Adair
MUSIC: Michael J. McEvoy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Dorman
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 29, 2010