Me and Orson Welles Reviews
While the story may be a tried and true method - young high schooler is in the right place at the right time and fate allows him to be included in the production of Caesar - where the film truly shines is when it focuses on the production and the whirlwind who stirs the drink, Orson Welles. In a fantastic and Oscar worthy performance Christian McKay brings the man to life, warts and all. His charisma, his charm, his insecurities are all on display and after the first five minutes you truly feel that you are watching Welles in action.
Director Richard Linklater wonderfully decided to film this piece in a decidedly 1940-50's noir style. From the way each scene is set up to the way the characters interact - all solidly inside the genre.
The ensemble acting is solid as is the brazen, self confident youth portrayed by Zac Efron, and the so called love interest in the story, portrayed by Claire Danes. It all works, but it is McKay as Welles who demands your attention. The script has a few flaws and occasionally teeters towards the melodrama that you find in the noir style, but there are gems aplenty here. For example, when a couple of actors are talking with Efron and saying that in a book, all the "action" (read sex) takes place during the quadruple space. Meaning that the book will give you a lead up like "they looked longingly into each others eyes and then she reached over and turned out the lights". "The next morning..." - see, the action happened during those extra spaces.
There is also a wonderful scene where Welles reads a segment of The Magnificent Ambersons (which he later made into a film) to Efron and then manages to ad lib the passage into a radio broadcast he takes part in an hour later.
Through it all you get a glimpse at the genius that was Welles through his production of Julius Caesar. In 1937 fascism was on the rise, so staging the play in modern garb gave an entirely different spin to the tale. You also see how Welles was in control of every aspect of the production - this was his vision, from stage cues to how and when the orchestra would be heard from. The filming of opening night was wonderful and the film could have easily ended with Welles looking out at the standing ovation and asking himself "how am I going to ever top this?" That the film didn't end here was a slight misstep, as it tried to show that the film was really more about Efron than Welles - but we all know better.
This is a fictionalized tale built around a real event. The film concerns a young student who happens to luck into getting a bit part in Orson Welles 1937 stage adaptation of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater, a production that was a radical take on the story that some say was more Welles than Shakespeare.
The film is a nice little behind the scenes look at theatrical productions, as well as a study of Welles and how difficult he was to work with. There's a some romance involved, but it's not overly sappy, and it's all fairly well played.
Efron is decent (which kind of surprised me), but he still needs some work. Also, he looked a bit too "dreamy". At any rate, this is at least a step towards a role that will really test his skills and give him some credibility and hopefully some respect. You know, the kind of role that really turns some one into an actor that people take seriously.
Danes is good in her role as the production assistant who has ambitions of getting to the top and will take about any measure necessary to get there. All the other supporting players are good too, but, as you may expect, this film really belongs to one person, and that is Christian McKay.
This film is, I believe, his first cinematic effort, though not his first crack at Welles. He's amazing, and does a great job at capturing the look, mannerisms, attitude, and most importantly, the voice, of one of history's greatest arrogant misunderstood geniuses.
I liked the production design here, and the end credits are nifty as well. The spirit of the times and the world of theater are nicely captured, and I think this film fits nicely into Linklater's body of work.
Give this one a shot. It's not a masterpiece, but it doesn't fail to deliver something that's fun, watchable ,and pretty well made.
The film attempts to chronicle the difficulties of working with a superhuman legend, showing shots of the actors waiting around for hours after Welles's rendezvous with his many mistresses and Welles arbitrarily cutting lines and speeches from the show in order to preserve his own star. Oh, and there's also a rather bizarre love triangle going on between Welles, Richard and the young theater manager Sonja (Claire Danes, "Stardust"), just because.
McKay tries his hardest, but he's simply not a strong enough actor to take on such a meaty role. He has a couple flashy moments, but none of them come to fruition. As a result, "Me and Orson Welles" falls into the ditch of glitzy, surface-level entertainment, somehow not dramatic enough and not substantial enough to create a story.
Someday there will be a better film about Orson Welles, one that manages to fully embrace what the man represented in cinema. It's a shame it wasn't this one.
Director: Richard Linklater
Summary: After convincing Orson Welles (Christian McKay) to give him a key role in the first Shakespearean play to run on Broadway, 17-year-old Richard (Zac Efron) finds himself on shaky ground when he clashes with the manipulative director over pretty assistant Sonja (Claire Danes). Sonja's ambition, Richard's desires and Welles's controlling nature all add up to more drama off stage than on for the Mercury Theater's production of "Julius Caesar."
My Thoughts: "This is Christian McKay's film. He was fantastic in this film. I enjoyed his performance the most. He had such a strong presence on screen. I also loved Zoe Kazan. She had very limited screen time, but her character was very interesting and stood out for me. I have only seen Zac Efron in one other film, that being '17 again', (I believe that's the name of the film, and hardly a movie to judge one's acting on) and he surprisingly did well in this film. The film is very interesting and has many great characters, with great acting from all. It shows how replaceable you are in the theater world, and just how cruel that world could be. The film is also a great insight on the young Orson Welles. I enjoyed it."
A teenager is cast in the Mercury Theatre production of "Julius Caesar" directed by a young Orson Welles in 1937.
There are many things to love about ME AND ORSON WELLES, a dip into the past of the USA circa 1937 when despite the Great Depression and the imminence of WW II life upon the wicked stage held the fascination for a group of people determined to become stars. Adapted from the novel by Robert Kaplow by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr. and directed by Richard Linklater, this film reminds us of what the movies of the 1940s were like - hazy, musically inclined, optimistic views of the future played out on the streets and backstages of New York. It is not a deep film, but it is delivered by an excellent cast, and if the first half drags a bit, the second half more than makes up for those flaws.
The musical score is rich in excerpts from the period popular songs as well as a fine score by Michael J. McEvoy. The cinematography that captures the flavor of the 30s - long shots down on the streets from high buildings, the creaky dank theater mood, and the choice of bathing everything in a slightly umber tone - is mastered by Dick Pope. The cast is uniformly fine, but it is the performance of Christian McKay that, just as Orson Welles dominated the world in the places he stood, proves that McKay is a brilliant actor to watch carefully. It is a very good show, not a great one, but a solid look at the life and colleagues of a great man.
Once in a while, there comes a movie that is so endearing, engaging and charming, that you wish everyone you know could see it. Me and Orson Welles is one of those films. It has a romanticized quality about it that speaks to those who like a good period piece and who like seeing good characters do good things in a movie that is--good.
The film itself chronicles a week in the life of a young, aspiring actor (Efron) who, after a chance encounter with the infamous Orson Welles, quickly becomes a part of (if not entangled in) a whirlwind production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." The film also showcases the madness experienced by everyone involved in the play due to its crazed--and genius--progenitor, legendary male drama queen, Orson Welles (played a revelatory Christian McKay.)
When our naive debutant, Richard, meets the ego-maniacal Welles, he is warned that Orson is full of drama; that he's read and knows "everything": and that he always gets his way. Slowly, but surely, our plucky young protagonist learns that this forewarning is nothing but the truth. As the ruthless and self-centered Welles becomes more deranged in his effort to put a show that will "make them sweat", he alienates his own cast and crew with his melodramatic outburst. However, Welles' short temper and capricious nature is mostly overlooked by his closest colleagues, particularly a young assistant (Danes); who knows that these things must be done in order to get ahead.
Surprisingly, and despite the play-within-the-film's heavy subject matter, the movie has a light disposition about it. The balance of humor and drama that it provides is a very harmonious one and the film ends up having a very feel-good vibe. The ins-and-outs of the theater world in 1930s America is given a royal homage that both glamorizes the art-form of theater and still depicts it with honesty and good intent. Very rarely does it meander into cliché or sappy sentimental territory. It simply is a good story that just happens to be told from the perspective of an idealistic 17-year old boy...who just happened to spend a week with Orson Welles.
It goes to show that a small, little film like this can truly be a diamond in the rough. A diamond that may go unnoticed or unseen, but doesn't lose its shine despite that few are witness to its greatness. Zac Efron can actually act..Christian McKay is Orson Welles. Claire Danes is in top form. The movie is simply a gem and deserves to be seen by everyone I know. Truly.
On the other hand, Zac Efron is an obvious weak link (partly excused by his character being *written* as somewhat of an inept amateur) and the plot takes a sour turn which, admittedly, didn't satisfy my own craving for a more feel-good tale.
There's also the mixed blessing of Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of director Elia), who is utterly charming but underused in a small role that, arguably, had more potential appeal than Claire Danes' central part.
I enjoyed this film more than expected, but it could have been still better.
"Me and Orson Welles" is a lively and entertaining film that does a neat job of capturing the period in breezy fashion, even the sexism. However, including the wager is a bit too crass.(As depicted, the machismo of the players does inadvertantly shatter some stereotypes.) That's not to mention the performances, including Eddie Marsan who is very good, cast against type as John Houseman. First and foremost, Christian McKay IS Orson Welles in all of his womanizing, egomaniacal, blustering and brilliant glory. All of these characteristics are important to this story but only the last is relevant to history. As Welles, here balancing precariously between art and commerce, wonders how he will top this, there is enough foreshadowing not on that count, but on what comes after his biggest triumph which he could not have foreseen. For example, he might not think too highly of John Gielgud here but he casts him decades later in "The Chimes of Midnight." And is there really a close connection between Welles and the novel of "The Magnificent Ambersons" or is that just apocryphal? I don't have any answers for that question since "Me and Orson Welles" is really a movie with no endings, and plenty of beginnings, as Zac Efron shows a good deal of promise.
Among the biggest shortcomings behind the film are natural ones, because as extremely well-interpreted as this minimalist story is, there's no getting around the minimal dramatic depth which limits potential in this lighthearted period piece, fulfilled about as thoroughly as it can be by inspired storytelling, and ironically further limited by fictional touches that are intended to beef up the narrative. On top of being a dramatization of the true story of the early days of Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, the film tells the fictional tale of an aspiring actor who sees his first intimate experience within the theatre in all of its glory and grime, and although Zac Efron and the writing surrounding his Richard Samuels character's story charm enough to endear, the young lead in this film is of limited intrigue compared to the other figures portrayed in this drama, to the film's understanding, reflected by too much attention to fleshing out supporting aspects in this narrative over the central one. While all around compelling, the film has trouble crafting a fictionalized medium for real subject matter that is nearly as intriguing as the subject matter it's supposed to actually support, yet it's not like intrigue isn't limited throughout the narrative by a lack of originality, because even though this is a particularly well-done interpretation of a formula of this type, it's a little too faithful to its tropes as a period melodrama, as surely as it is too faithful to its setting as a period melodrama. A large part of the fun in this film derives from the passionate celebration of the era and themes, yet at the same time, all of the overt dialogue snap and romantic happenings that characterized the theatre scene of the 1930s gets to be too much for you to ground yourself in the context of the film, no matter how much compellingness goes compensated for by sheer entertainment value. Of course, even then, perhaps the fun factor would be a little more prominent if the film wasn't so overlong, flirting with a two-hour runtime with a story of only so much consequence whose interpretation goes dragged out by fun filler and interesting material that, while certainly thoroughly engaging, further shake a sense of dynamicity. There's really not much to complain about in this film, because there's really not much to really get into to begin with, thus, we come back to natural shortcomings, challenged solidly by entertaining direction, charming acting and dynamite writing, but made hard to ignore when joined by such consequential shortcomings as conventions, histrionics and questionable pacing. The film stops just short of being truly excellent, but hey, it's still mighty strong, have its problems, but only so many compared to strengths that entertain, compel and immerse, at least through visual style.
If nothing else, the film is a delight to simply look at, largely because of cinematographer's Dick Pope's crisp, almost lightly golden palette which makes the brighter scenes stunning, the darker scenes rugged, and joins impeccable shot framing in drawing you into a setting which art directors Bill Crutcher, David Doran and Stuart Rose, joined by production designer Laurence Dorman and costume designer Nic Ede, rebuild marvelously, intricately nailing the look of New York City, circa 1937, in a fashion that is both transporting and good-looking in its distinction. The visual style of the film is sharp, to the point of being both aesthetically transcendent and immersive, yet style wouldn't be so effective if it wasn't orchestrated so well by Richard Linklater's airtight directorial performance, which may rank among, if not stand alone as the strongest in the filmmaker's career, utilizing impeccable framing, smoothly snappy editing and tastefully thoughtful pacing to craft a subtly entertaining and respectable atmosphere which endears thoroughly, with the help of cast from which Linklater salvages solid performances. The film boasts a reasonably sizable cast with material that, while not too dramatically weighty, remains challenging, and just about every last member delivers on electric chemistry and exceedingly charismatic individual performances, with leading man Zac Efron being convincing enough in his spirited portrayal of a charmingly ambitious talent whose confidence goes tested by challenges as he fulfills dreams and comes of age to carry the central fictional plot as compelling, despite its limited intrigue. In a big way, Efron is revelatory, but by no means is he the most soaring discovery in this impressive acting vehicle, because even though it can be argues that this film focuses a touch too much on Orson Welles' side of the story, you can completely understand why the spotlight sticks with that layer so intensely, not just because Welles himself was such an intriguing figure, but because newcomer Christian McKay is nothing short of sensational as Welles effortlessly capturing the distinctive mannerisms, behavior, attitude and, for that matter, presence of the legend with such flawlessness that he seems to bring Welles back to life, and captivates every time he steps into view, just as the genius artistic did. Visual style, direction and acting are all subtle strengths, but that's only because they're realized to the point of feeling naturalist, carrying an intriguing narrative that, while lacking in dramatic consequence and in originality, still offers quite a bit of potential as a study on the challenges to meeting ambition, as well as on the brilliance and sleaze within the artistic mind of Orson Welles and the theatre scene of the 1930s. Though limited, potential in this subject matter stands, and as much as it can be, it goes fulfilled by the aforementioned sharp direction and acting about as much as it goes fulfilled by a relatively stellar script by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr., whose layered focus is a little uneven at times, but generally successful in providing extensively intimate characterization to many a memorable figure, both real and fictitious, while nailing the traits of the setting, - arguably a touch too much for you to completely buy the romanticism of the time - providing enough tightness and flare to certain set piece to make up for limitations in storytelling dynamicity, and, of course, delivering on absolutely amazing dialogue, whose sharp humor, crackling wit and overall memorability is so consistently mind-blowing that simply listening to people talk is a delight. There may not quite be enough meat to this story concept to make a truly upstanding final product, but on top of being tasteful and intelligent, the film is thoroughly entertaining, being a fun and memorable opus that at least borders on excellent, and certainly stands firm as Linklater's best film, by a long shot.
when the curtain falls, some unassured story aspects, plenty of conventions, some melodramatic devices, and some aimless spells, all behind a narrative of only so much consequence, obscure bona fide excellence, but just barely, as the handsome visual style, immersive art direction, slickly realized directorial storytelling, solid acting - especially from the show-stealingly revelatory Christian McKay - and a thoroughly well-characterized, extensive, cracklingly clever and all around outstanding script by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palm, Jr., drive "Me and Orson Welles" as an inspired and intelligent period drama that comes close enough to brilliance to endear as, if nothing else, a lot of genuine fun.
3.25/5 - Strong
The performances by the cast are very good. Zac Efron does shine in the film. Claire Danes also does a great job. She has a great on screen chemistry with Zac. Christian McKay does a great job as Welles.
I definitely recommend this film.