Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Me and Orson Welles (2008)

Me and Orson Welles is a fun "what if" look at Welles's Mercury Theater troupe and their acclaimed production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in 1937. Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a teenager who lands a small role in the play. He is thrilled to be among such a vibrant and talented cast, and enjoys working with the demanding but talented Orson Welles. Richard falls for Sonja Jones, Welles's pretty assistant. When Richard realizes the lengths that Sonja will go with Welles to advance her career, he manages to deeply offend Welles. The antagonism between the two threatens Richard's theatrical ambitions.

I liked the production values of the movie, and the name-dropping of acting icons of the day such as Joseph Cotten, Norman Lloyd, John Houseman, Martin Gabel, and George Coulouris. These actors were all ably portrayed by the supporting cast, with James Tupper as Cotten and Ben Chaplin as Coulouris being the standouts. Claire Danes seems to be having fun playing Sonja.

The leads are excellent. Efron brings a lot of innocence and naive charm to the role of Richard. Christian McKay thunders magnificently in his performance as the brilliant, temperamental Welles. He reminded me a lot of the real Welles, and he received some acclaim for his performance, including a Supporting Actor Independent Spirit Award nomination. Richard Linklater skillfully directed this little gem. I know that he's been around awhile, but I haven't seen much of his work. After seeing this and Bernie a few weeks ago, I need to be on the lookout for some of his other films. Kudos also go to screenwriters Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo for their adaptation of Robert Kaplow's novel. I don't know if the character of Richard was based on a real person; it seems that he was entirely a fictional creation set among the actual Mercury Theater company.

The form of Me and Orson Welles reminded me a lot of My Week with Marilyn, though not as meaty. Entertaining as this little film is, it doesn't seem to have any substance to it other than as a heartfelt paean to the brilliant personalities of 1937 Broadway. That's fine with me, because it makes for an entertaining movie night at home. Grade: B.

I watched Me and Orson Welles via Netflix Streaming on February 16, 2013.

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