As seen at the
2009 SXSW Film Festival:
While Me and Orson Welles
never reaches beyond the realm of lighthearted, fluffy
entertainment, it’s always engaging thanks to director Richard
Linklater’s solid classical-style craftsmanship and the cast’s
uniformly good performances.
surprising turn, High
School Musical heartthrob Zach Efron plays protagonist
Richard Samuels, a high school-aged dreamer who sneaks away to
New York City one day and lands himself a role in Orson Welles’
(Christian McKay) 1937 Mercury Theatre rendition of Julius
Caesar. Given Welles’ unstable genius (which would later
make him infamous), Richard’s hope-filled life is largely
dictated by the near-random whims of his director. Welles
commutes across town by ambulance to save time and won’t commit
to an opening day for the play until it is an absolute must that
he do so. The Richard/Orson dynamic gets more personal and
complicated, too, when Welles’ booty-call of an assistant, the
beautiful Sonja (Claire Danes), begins to reciprocate Richard’s
head-over-heels crush on her.
The film’s true star is not
Efron, who perfectly fits the bill for the wide-eyed Richard
without being extraordinary, but Christian McKay. If McKay
doesn’t nail Welles, then he at least nails a compelling
variation on the endlessly discussed historical figure. This was
no easy task given most viewers’ extensive prior knowledge of
the man and their presumable expectations for the portrayal.
Smartly, director Linklater centers the film’s depiction of
Welles on the director’s interaction with Richard, so as to
avoid it coming off as a glib attempt to show the full extent of
the director’s life and career. This gives McKay some creative
room to roam while still adhering to Welles’ manic reputation,
and he’s simply brilliant in the role. Claire Danes is also
memorable, both for her looks and her acting.
Beyond its ability to provide
a good time, Me and Orson Welles is appreciable for the
fact that it tackles two underrepresented sub-genres in American
film: historical fiction that doesn’t involve a war and
non-musical live theater. Linklater may not have fashioned a
remarkable film, but if all movies were this briskly enjoyable
and semi-unique, I’d be one content critic.
Screened on: 3.16.2009 at the
Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX.
Me and Orson Welles is rated PG-13 and
runs 109 minutes.
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