Me and Orson Welles (12a)By Kim Francis
December 09, 2009
Zac calling Orson... come in Orson, please
Stars Ben Chaplin, Claire Danes, Zac Efron, Zoe Kazan, Eddia Marsan, Christian McKay
Richard Linklater is one of those directors that is hard to define.
The man behind such diverse films as indie rites of passage flick Dazed and Confused, the critically acclaimed Before Sunrise and its follow-up Before Sunset, the Jack Black comedy vehicle School of Rock and the sci-fi animation A Scanner Darkly, Linklater defies categorisation.
Though it might not come as a surprise that he selected Me and Orson Welles as his latest project, it’s a move that few could have predicted.
The film follows events in the life of Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) – a 17-year-old 1930s boy who is unsure what to do with his life. A love of performing combined with a stroke of good fortune lands him with an unpaid role in a new production at Broadway venue The Mercury Theatre, which turns out to be a young Orson Welles’ legendary version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
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This coming-of-age tale sees Richard learn some valuable life lessons, not least about love and the ways of the world.
It also charts the profound impact the genius of Orson Welles has on him in the short time he knows him.
On paper, Me and Orson Welles reads like an ambitious project but, in viewing, it feels like a small, independent film of the type Linklater might have made early in his career.
The action focuses in and around the famous New York theatre and, as such, it feels somewhat insular and low-key.
You might expect a character-driven story and to some extent it is, inasmuch as it’s about how Orson Welles – a larger than life, vain, eccentric and uncompromising man strikingly portrayed by Christian McKay – is seen through the eyes of young protagonist Richard.
But Me and Orson Welles never really gets under the skin of any of the characters, leaving it feeling a little empty and unfulfilling.
You could argue that Linklater captures perfectly how an egocentric 17-year-old might view the world, questioning little and accepting without challenging and infer that this is the real reason so little is imparted about the backgrounds of most of the characters. But when we the viewers are relegated to passive observer and denied the benefit of dramatic irony, the film becomes unrewarding and lacking in depth.
Feeling a little like 2005’s Mrs Henderson Presents, Me and Orson Welles treads familiar territory and, while it captures a romanticised vision of the period and depicts the events leading up to the production in an absorbing way, it feels like a lightweight coming-of-age tale.