Me and Orson Welles
dir Richard Linklater
scr Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr
prd Ann Carli, Richard Linklater, Marc Samuelson
with Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin, Zoe Kazan, Eddie Marsan, Kelly Reilly, James Tupper, Leo Bill, Al Weaver, Megan Maczko, Saskia Reeves
release US 27.Nov.09, UK 4.Dec.09
08/UK CinemaNX 1h54
Me and Orson Welles
Let's make a deal: McKay and Efron

danes chaplin marsan
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Me and Orson Welles While this feels like an autobiographical coming-of-age movie, it's actually a fictional story set among real people. And it's brought to vibrant life by a superb performance from McKay as Orson Welles.

Richard (Efron) is a 17-year-old wannabe in 1937 New York, determined to get into the groundbreaking Mercury Theatre company run by 22-year-old genius Orson Welles (McKay). When he stumbles into a role in their landmark production of Julius Caesar, Richard can't believe his luck. He's working alongside such ascending stars as George Coulouris (Chaplin), John Houseman (Marsan), Muriel Brassler (Reilly), Jopseph Cotton (Tupper) and Norman Lloyd (Bill). And he feels even more fortunate when Orson's hard-to-get assistant Sonja (Danes) agrees to go out with him.

Linklater takes a strangely stiff approach to the filmmaking, with a jazzy Woody Allen-like underscore trying to build a jaunty tone as the story drifts along. Fortunately, there's life in the dialog, and as the characters begin to emerge they pull us into the events while adding a strong zing of wit. And the film itself becomes a fascinating look not only at Welles' early career but also the backstage workings of a theatre company.

Most intriguing is the insight into how actors hide in their characters and create art with (or despite) their director. Clearly, the film's cast enjoyed the challenge of creating these layers: playing historical people who are playing Shakespearean characters under the leadership of the mercurial Welles. Within this they bring out lively personalities and extremely entertaining interaction. Efron is our entry point into this world, and he gives a strong, likeable performance even when Richard gets annoyingly petulant, forgetting how inexperienced he is both on stage and in love.

But it's McKay who provides the electricity. He might be too old (he looks 30 rather than 22) but he gets Welles so perfectly that it takes the breath away. We understand why everyone hangs on Welles' every word and lets him indulge in grandstanding improvisation. We believe this is a man who will change radio, theatre and film forever. And watching him through Richard's naive eyes is great fun, even if the film can't live up to Welles' genius.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 28.Aug.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall