Chrstian McKay and Zac Efron
DIRECTED By: Richard Linklater
WRITTEN By: Holly Gent Palmo
PRODUCED By: Richard Linklater, Ann Carli &
DISTRIBUTED By: Freestyle Releasing
RATED PG-13 FOR SEXUAL REFERENCES AND SMOKING
Simon Lee Phillips
ME AND ORSON WELLES
by Jeremy Goeckner, Editor-in-Chief
Pure, Unadulterated Talent
The world had never seen and never will see another person like Orson Welles. Never before and never since has the world seen a man so amazingly skilled in so many ways; a man who accomplished so much in so many mediums. He had the talent of ten men, and he knew it as well. He was impervious to criticism and resolute in his visions. He was truly a once in a millennium talent.
One is reminded of this unendingly when watching "Me and Orson Welles", the new film from director Richard Linklater. Through the amazing performance of Christian McKay, one can truly see just what a brilliant persona Welles was. I use the word, "persona", very deliberately. Orson Welles was more than just a man; he was a lifestyle. He was a brand name, a religious experience, a new perspective. There is a reason why he was called, "The Great Man" after all.
The movie is similarly as overwhelming as the "Great Man" himself. It starts off unassumingly calm, only to receive a big jolt of energy in the form of McKay's performance. After this point, all bets are off. The movie holds a little bit of something for everyone, but most especially for those big fans of Welles. And speaking as one of them, they are not disappointed in the slightest.
Of course, there is a storyline to all of this. The movie "stars" Zac Efron as Richard, a bored but extremely talented high school student that lives somewhere around or in New York City (the film doesn't exactly spell this out). Richard is a highly romantic kid, with little-to-no perception of how the world really works. It is the Depression Era; a time when desperation was high and when Orson Welles was reshaping the face of the theatre.
Richard wants to be an actor, at least he thinks he does. As he is walking by the famous Mercury Theater, he sees the actors gathered outside for the grand sign lighting. He maneuvers his way into the fold via use of a drumroll, catching the attention of Orson Welles, the theater's chief draw. Right from his entrance, McKay dominates every scene he is in. This is appropriate, given that it is exactly what Welles did in real life.
Welles hires Richard on the spot to play Lucius in his new production of Julius Caeser. This happens so quickly that neither Richard nor the audience are able to take in its gravity. Richard is given one day to learn his lines, for example. And the part also requires him to sing and play the ukulele. All of this must be done quickly, as the production is already backed up and falling apart.
The actual Welles production of Julius Caeser was one of the most unique moments in theater history. Welles cut the show tremendously to make it a mere 100 minutes. He borrowed from other plays, cut entire characters and speeches, and moved scenes around. All of this without even mentioning the modern-day setting with his characters dressed in fascist uniforms. The production was truly ahead of its time by light-years.
This also made it amazingly difficult for those trying to make it happen. The film spends most of its time on this; the actual rehearsing and preparation of the play. For anybody who has ever been a part of a theatrical production, these scenes are played and written perfectly. They get everything right. The hope, the despair, the joy, the franticness, the unexplained mishaps, it's all there. They burst with energy and flair deserving of Welles.
It is here that the main characters are fleshed out. Richard stands as observer for the most part, watching Welles' genius fly through the theater, annoying and enhancing all who are in its presence. It is here that Richard meets Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), an ambitious production assistant who seems immune to everyone, even Welles. We see immediately that they are attracted to each other, despite the obvious obstacles. However, the relationship takes a few very unexpected turns. We see some of them coming, but are still surprised by them. It is a great testament to the actors that this is possible.
Lets talk about the actors. Efron continues to show some maturity and talent outside of his tweeny roots, which can only be a good thing. Danes makes no wrong choices, and plays the thin line between emotionally detached and deeply driven perfectly. There are also great supporting performances by Ben Chaplin and Leo Bill as members of the cast. However, they all pale greatly in comparison to the title role.
This film marks Christian McKay's film debut, which is mind-boggling after viewing it. He commands the screen every time he is on. McKay, who hails from Great Britain, has had much experience in playing Welles, having portrayed him in 3 different productions in England. It clearly shows on screen, as he shows all of Welles' charms and tortured brilliance. Welles was always performing, in a way, and McKay channels it all spot-on. Not since Heath Ledger's menacing performance in The Dark Knight has a supporting character been such a dominant force in a film. If the Oscar voters leave McKay off the ballot, they all must be checked for mental illness immediately.
However, as engrossing as McKay is, the main story lies with young Richard. Efron carries the bulk of the audience's empathy very well. We, like Richard, are in awe of this world we are thrust into. It is highly romantic to Richard, and represents his highest dreams. The twist at the end of the film is especially heart-breaking, forcing Richard and the audience to examine those dreams in very different terms. Did Richard ever really realize his dreams, or was he tricked by them? Maybe, maybe not.
But this film isn't about realizing your dreams. It's not even about what it takes to get those dreams. It's about the place of dreams in the real world. The film times the ups and downs so perfectly in this regard. The journey of Richard does not necessarily fill one with hope, but manages to show that hope is possible in all circumstances. This is a concept all young people must face when growing up, just as Richard does.
That Welles represents both the beautiful and the ugly side of the world to Richard is no coincidence. As Sonja puts it, "He is arrogant, always right, very temperamental, VERY brilliant." Welles was all of these things and more. In this film, he serves as the embodiment of the best and the worst the world can become. For Richard, he chooses to see the best. The audience must choose for themselves. Still, with so much to take in, the film doesn't miss a single beat.
Sadly, this is a gem of a movie that has gotten lost in the awards season void. Don't let its lack of publicity fool you. This is one of the best of the year. See it, by any means. I can't say it enough. I love, I love, I love this movie. I have a feeling you will too.