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  Me and Orson Welles

Starring: Zach Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin, Kelly Reilly

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Produced by: Anne Carli, Marc Samuelson, Richard Linklater
Written by: Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr.

Distributor: Freestyle Releasing

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.

     In a 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.


-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.22.2009

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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