ME AND ORSON WELLES

BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
AUGUST 23, 2010

One would assume that a film portraying one of the most influential directors in cinema’s history would unquestionably be an epic masterpiece. Unfortunately, those expectations fall extremely short. “Me and Orson Welles” was little more than a flop.

The point at which “Me and Orson Welles” goes wrong is quite unclear. Perhaps it is the inclusion of Zac Efron, famed for his pop-idol singing in “High School Musical,” that I failed to rise above, or maybe it was the lack of relationships I felt for the characters, stemming from poor storytelling. Ultimately, the film felt repetitive and, walking blindly into the movie; I had high hopes and expectations (perhaps extreme or ill-advised) that didn’t get met (and maybe never could be),

Orson Welles was a very influential man known for his temper and theatrics outside the theater. It’s up for debate that Welles was a genius. “Citizen Kane” is known the world over and is shown in every film class history as the innovator for Hollywood cinema. Is it too much to ask, then, for a prominent film to depict him? Since he died in 1985, there has been a void of cinema devoted to representing his real-life character, and finally, a film stood up to and fell short.

My poor review appears to be in the minority as critic Roger Ebert expresses his admiration for the film full-heartedly. However, my displeasure does not stem from Christian McKay’s impersonation of Orson Welles, which is the source of much of Ebert’s praise. McKay’s performance warranted most of my pleasure from the film and delivered the aura of what I am sure Mr. Welles presented in his life. I agree that Welles’s representation was positive and that his portions were the most enjoyable. Welles was known as a character, and McKay presents that virtually, with the physical, the audible, and the emotional. Yet somehow, the film teeters off with the inclusion of its counterparts.

Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a 17-year-old boy skipping school in the late 1930s to partake in his acting debut, “Julius Caesar.” The play is being directed by the famous Orson Welles, whom Richard becomes somewhat close to (as close as anyone can get to Welles, who appears elusive and unattached). Richard takes a liking to one of Welles’ production assistants, Sonja Jones (played by Claire Danes). When Welles discovers this, he reverts his antics to stealing Sonja from Richard, and ultimately ending Richard’s acting career before it can truly begin.

Efron’s appearance was unwarranted and unexciting. A better actor choice would have been Shia LaBeouf or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which are actors with more acting prowess than Mr. Efron. Do not get me wrong; I had high hope for Efron’s involvement despite my dislike for High School Musical. With this film and “Charlie St. Cloud” in his renewed debut, I wanted to enjoy his performance, but I could not indulge and therefore disliked everything about his inclusion in this film.

Claire Danes faired even less than Zac Efron. Once again, I lost all involvement in the film with Danes’ presence. Though I have never held contempt for Danes before this viewing, the result after the “Me and Orson Welles” performance makes me pine for Romeo & Juliet’s days where she could match the acting fortitude of a man like Leonardo DiCaprio. With the mention of DiCaprio, I feel as though the producers thought putting Danes and Efron together would be reminiscent of the old Shakespearian coupling. Still, in the end, it failed miserably.

The outcome of “Me and Orson Welles” would have faired better with a better cast and gripping storytelling to match the superior performance of Christian McKay. The sad conclusion is that the creators had one colossal shot at producing a quality film about the life of Orson Welles and, in the end, left much to be desired. But perhaps this was the point, to have a movie where, much like the real Orson Welles felt as though he was always the star of the show, Christian McKay must be the only shining light in the film. If that were the case, then at least “Me and Orson Welles” succeed at something. On all other fronts, however, the film felt botched.

RELEASE DATE
November 25, 2009

DIRECTOR
Richard Linklater

WRITTEN BY
Holly Gent
Vincent Palmo, Jr.

BASED ON
“Me and Orson Welles”
by Robert Kaplow

STUDIO
Freestyle Releasing

PG-13
(for sexual references and smoking)

COMEDY
DRAMA

114 minutes

CINEMATOGRAPHER
Dick Pope

COMPOSER
Michael J McEvoy

EDITOR
Sandra Adair

CAST
Zac Efron
Christian McKay
Claire Danes
Ben Chaplin
Zoe Kazan
Megan Maczko
Simon Lee Phillips
Patrick Kennedy

PRODUCED BY
Ann Carli
Richard Linklater
Marc Samuelson

BUDGET
$25 million

Leave a Reply