Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review: Me & Orson Welles

| by Allan Stackhouse |

For the younger generation out there that is only seeing Me & Orson Welles for Zac Efron, they will be treating themselves not only to ninety minutes of Zac's statuesque looks but also to a classic film made in modern times. Orson Welles is a legend in early filmmaking and for this film to come along to remind - or introduce - us of his existence is terrific as not only a concept but also as an ode to to someone who helped forge modern filmmaking. I found this film funny, charming, and altogether very entertaining. Though the story line was on the simpler side, the drama played out quickly and succinctly.

I am the first to admit that I do not like period pieces because of the incessant melodrama and the poor choices in cinematography with characters so irritatingly pompous that they make me want to destroy something. However, this film had excellent cinematography, enough to convey a classic time without some stupid bleached out effect. The set design more than successfully created an old American environment and time. Its entire existence pleases me because nothing about it is "modern" but it still holds up as a film. The love story is a little on the dated side but it fits for this generation because there can be more to an adult love story than sex. The story follows Richard Samuels, played by Zac Efron, in his quest to become part of Orson Welles' theater production of Julius Caesar. A concurrent love story develops when Richard becomes interested in Claire Danes' Sonja Jones.

English actor Christian McKay fabulously portrayed theater director and actor Orson Welles. Just from the few movies and articles I've come across of Orson Welles, I gathered that this portrayal was wholly accurate while Christian did add some of his own panache to the role. His delivery of lines for the distinct fashion that Orson Welles spoke was spot on. While Richard's character was the only one to have any significant arcs, Claire Danes provided a great a supporting character to Richard.

Of Richard Linklater's previous works, I've only seen Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly but I found those brilliant and I think him incredibly versatile to have produced such avant garde films to a completely traditional film with Me and Orson Welles. The performances he garnered from the cast and the consistent building up of each character provided scenes that never lost their connectivity and never ceased to be interesting. In fact, I didn't pause the film once throughout my viewing of it.

The consistent conflict of the film is launching Julius Caesar, the play. Orson continuously pushes the opening date back, at the chagrin of the theater owner. All of the characters are trying to get ahead in this film: Orson wants to produce the best play that ever existed, Richard wants respect and the affections of Sonja, and Sonja wants to climb the theater ladder. These characters, having distinct motivations, were instrumental in creating such a complete film.

I found the story to be interesting because it's a cautionary tale of what life in theater or entertainment can potentially be like. It is entirely too rare for someone in entertainment to be looking out for anyone other than themselves. Zac Efron makes this mistake when he quits the play. Orson does come crawling back to him but only for the sake of opening day. After the first show, Orson sends him packing and doesn't even do it to his face. This might villainize the persona of Orson Welles but I believe it to be an accurate portrayal of what a man of genius can be like.

Narratively, the ending is appropriate. It doesn't tie things up in a nice bow, and what kind of message would it send to viewers about theater if it did? A bad one.

Despite my overall reluctance to watch this in theaters, I'm glad that I gave this film a chance. Even if you have absolutely no idea who Orson Welles was or don't care who he is, the film stands on its own two feet and proves itself as a cautionary tale while not restorting to any ridiculous gimmicks. The acting is great and the characters are interesting; a marvelous effort by director Richard Linklater.

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