Me and Orson Welles TIFF 2008 Reviews – part 1

10 August 2009

Me and Orson Welles

This is obviously a bit late but with the M&OW teaser trailer out, here are the reviews from the professional sites and media outlets the movie got at TIFF08 last year:

LA Times, The Big Picture, Patrick Goldstein, 5 September 2008

Toronto: Richard Linklater premieres ‘Me and Orson Welles’

Like many of us who were too young to ever see him in his glory days, Richard Linklater’s first memories of Orson Welles were of an immensely bloated man, jovially telling tall tales on the talk show circuit and dutifully touting Paul Masson wine. But when a friend passed along a Robert Kaplow novel, “Me and Orson Welles,” which focused on the whirlwind events leading up to the 1937 Mercury Theatre Company production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Linklater–by then a devotee of Welles’ film career–jumped at the idea to bring the book to the screen.

The resulting film, “Me and Orson Welles,” has its first screening tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival. And having been given a sneak peek last night, I’m here to say that it’s a blast. Full of wonderful historical detail, it captures Welles at the height of his youthful incandescence, both as a brilliant theater director and as a hilariously imperious and mercurial showman. A year before his “War of the Worlds” radio play shocked the nation, four years before “Citizen Kane” transformed modern-day cinema, Welles is already an epic presence, riding around New York City in a rented ambulance, siren blaring, so he can make a speedier commute between his radio work and stage rehearsals. When he heads up to the radio booth, he tells a young admirer: “Come on up with me. You can learn everything you need to know about radio in an hour.”

Played by the young British actor Christian McKay, Welles is both arrogant and completely magnetic, knowing when to flatter, when to cajole and when to humiliate. The story takes the form of a cautionary tale, involving an aspiring young actor (played by Zac Efron of “High School Musical”) who lands a bit part in the Mercury production, giving him an up-close view of all the madcap energy and tribulations of a Welles production. He also gets the opportunity to fall for Welles’ production assistant, played by Claire Danes, who turns out be nearly as ambitious as Welles in her own way. Danes informs the young actor that he may have a part, but money will not be changing hands. “You’re not getting paid,” she says. “You’re getting the opportunity of being sprayed by Orson Welles’ spit.”

The picture is looking for distribution up in Toronto. Even in today’s conservative buying environment, I can’t imagine someone wouldn’t want a film that has such winning performances and offers you a front-row seat at one of the great moments in American theater. I just got off the phone with Linklater, who gave us his first real interview about the film. He talks about the unusual entity that financed the film, his favorite Welles movies and the nature of ambition in show business.

The Hollywoodreporter, Kirk Honeycut, 7 September 2008

Film Review: Me and Orson Welles

Bottom Line: Christian McKay’s impersonation of young Orson Welles is sensational in this enjoyable, though slight, historical fiction about a teen who spends a memorable week with the legendary wonder

TORONTO — At the heart of “Me and Orson Welles” is an uncanny impersonation of the young Orson Welles by English actor Christian McKay. He does resemble the “boy genius” a bit but more crucially his voice is perfect. He’s nailed every vocal nuance that contributed to Welles’ acting performances and larger-than-life personality. McKay has previously done a one-man show as Welles and, in a way, this movie is a continuation of that show.

Not that the always surprising Richard Linklater doesn’t surround McKay’s Orson with a memorable cast that plays real and imaginary characters who were a part of Orson’s Mercury Theatre production of “Julius Caesar” in 1937. All spark to life quite nicely. Yet you get the feeling that if Orson were to vanish, their life lights would dim precipitously.

There is an audience for this film. Fans of two indie mavericks, Linklater and Welles, for one. The film is a must for lovers and students of the theater. Ditto that for admirers of terrific acting. But this all adds up to an art-house audience. Any distributor that bites must hope that McKay gets recognition with year-end awards to help boost what will otherwise be a modest boxoffice.

The film, written by Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo, derives from Robert Kaplow’s carefully researched historical novel about the legendary 1937 New York stage production. Shakespeare’s play was pared down to 90 minutes and performed on a bare stage, covered with platforms at various heights, with the actors all wearing Fascist uniforms. It was a critical triumph.

Kaplow and now Linklater’s story imagines that a high school student, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), who loves theater and music, wanders by the restored 41st Street theater and is hired by an impetuous Welles for a minor though key role.

Through Richard’s eyes we watch the show take shape in its last week, moving from near catastrophe to artistic victory while its director and star (Welles played Brutus) throws off brilliant though often contradictory ideas, sneaks off to trysts with willing actresses and assistants, continues the radio show that pays the bills and never apologizes for his raging ego.

Richard becomes romantically involved with Welles’ ambitious assistant Sojna (Claire Danes), rubs shoulders with the likes of Mercury co-founder John Houseman (Eddie Marsan), future movie star Joseph Cotton (James Tuper) and Mercury star George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin) and sees how art involves a certain amount of artifice. Or B.S., as Sonja puts it.

The film gets off to a halting start with too many talky scenes setting things up. The movie hits its stride as the Richard-Sonja romance heats up and Welles buckles down to business. Efron (“Hairspray,” “High School Musical”) holds his own against Welles/McKay, which is no easy task. He seems a bit mature for a high school student though. He’s more a college sophomore.

Danes plays a potentially off-putting role with charm and verve. Other standouts include Kelly Reilly as the show’s female star Muriel Brassler and Al Weaver as designer Sam Leve, whose original stage design for “Julius Caesar” was copied by the filmmakers to insure authenticity.

In the end though, Linklater’s film is about Orson Welles, not the Me. The film does analyze his artistic process and his perhaps already damaged psyche with a degree of hindsight, giving him a speech of self-assessment the real Orson would have been incapable of in 1937.

That the boy wonder became an old-age parody of himself as much through his own self-destructiveness as the misdeeds of others informs every moment of McKay’s great performance. The film ends on a note of supreme happiness and hope though, both for Orson and for Richard. After all, the future still lies ahead.

Screen Daily, Allan Hunter, 6 September 2008

Me and Orson Welles

Richard Linklater seems intent on proving himself a director for all seasons. His career now runs the gamut from the boldly experimental to the blandly commercial. Me And Orson Welles marks yet another departure as the versatile auteur creates a sweetly entertaining putting-on-a-show period drama that celebrates a defining moment in the life of American theatre and one of its most iconoclastic stars.

The audience that embraced Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day and Mrs Henderson Presents should also welcome this handsome paean to the arts and the ability to wrestle triumph from the jaws of defeat. A robust specialist release should allow Linklater to reach an older, well-heeled demographic who have little knowledge of his slacker movie past.

If you are going to make a film about Orson Welles then you need an actor who can provide a brilliant impersonation of this colossus of the New York stage. They have found such an actor in Christian McKay who gives a superlative performance. He captures both the look and sound of Welles, convincing in every aspect from his sing song cadences to the mischievous twinkle that dances in his eyes. It is a performance that achieves the same kind of verisimilitude and depth that earned Philip Seymour Hoffman plaudits and a Best Actor Oscar for Capote.

Christian McKay rightly dominates the film although that does not detract from the very able efforts of an ensemble cast called upon to portray such well known figures as John Houseman (Eddie Marsan), inveterate ladies man Joseph Cotten (James Tupper) or a jittery George Couloris (Ben Chaplin). Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, the story is set in a jaunty vision of 1937 New York that has some affinity with the period films of Woody Allen (Bullets Over Broadway etc). Welles is rehearsing what will become his legendary Mercury Theatre modern dress production of Julius Caesar. Drama student Richard (Zac Efron) is a starry-eyed teenager who becomes caught up in the whirlwind of Welles genius as he is offered the part of Lucius. It is an experience that shows him the best and worst of an actor’s life and also brings him into contact with Sonja (Claire Danes), the company’s girl friday and the woman that all the men lust after.

The screenplay adaptation by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo has a good deal of ready wit and easy charm, taking real events and shaping them into a story that allows us to see the monstrous ego and boundless charm of Welles through the eyes of a relatively unsullied bystander. There is almost an echo of My Favourite Year (1982) in the relationship between idol and worshipper. The story is briskly told, conveying a sense of life in the theatre, the moral complexities of the position in which Richard finds himself and the sheer presence of Welles (only 22 himself at the times) as he musters his troops or dashes across town in an ambulance to save precious time.

Claire Danes is a very appealing Sonja and Zac Efron makes Richard a believable innocent filled with the hopes and idealism of youth but it is Christian McKay’s dazzling Welles that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer.

Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, 14 September 2008 (original page on his website not available anymore)

Some real eye-openers

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL | In his first feature film role, a young actor captures Orson Welles — and a thriller based on ‘Plamegate’ is a true spellbinder

TORONTO — I have wonderful movies to write about today, but first I have to tell you a story.


Richard Linklater’s “Me and Orson Welles” is surely one of the best movies about the theater I’ve ever seen. And of the many screen portraits of Orson Welles, it is the one that best embraces the brilliance, the ego, the contradictions and the tempers of the man. It tells the story of a teenager named Richard (Zac Efron) who dreams of being an actor and suddenly finds himself with a role in Welles’ famous Broadway production of “Julius Caesar.”

This is a blessing and a curse. The tall, imperious Welles charms, coaches and encourages him, also publicly humiliates him and (from Richard’s viewpoint) steals his girl. Along the way, we get a portrait of how Welles reportedly worked. He was always running late, would issue sharp commands, always kept the focus on himself and hired and fired on a moment’s notice. His Mercury Theatre might have flown to pieces were it not for the steadying presences of John Houseman (Eddie Marsan), his producer, and Joseph Cotten (James Tupper), his fellow actor and close friend.

What drives the film is the extraordinary presence of Christian McKay as Welles. At 25, this is his first feature after only three TV roles. And he has to portray a man who is supremely self-confident, convinced of his own greatness, striding through the world with arrogance, capable of irresistible charm and sudden tantrums. To put it simply: McKay succeeds.

He does something else. He makes a convincing Welles. I have seen Welles, I dunno, for hundreds of hours, and have been through “Citizen Kane,” “The Third Man,” “Touch of Evil” and “The Trial” many times for shot-by-shot analysis. I have internalized the great man’s screen presence. Yet very quickly I found myself accepting that McKay was Welles. Yes, from certain angles, he resembles him. But it is more than merely an impersonation, and James Tupper is also uncanny as Joseph Cotten. They achieve what they do not as celebrity look-alikes, but with an embodiment, a projection from within, a whole matter of attitude.

Telling two love stories along the way and showing Richard dozing through his high school classes, Linklater achieves something else that’s very hard to do. Without lingering to make his points, he shows the production coming together under Welles’ bombastic leadership. He casually interworks stagecraft, tensions in the company, production realities. The point is not whether this is all based on life. The point is, it feels right, and the result is an opening night that plausibly convinces us why, as Welles promised, the production made Broadway history.

There is something else. When Welles directed this play in 1937, he was only 22 years old. Yes. And already famous. McKay looks young enough, and yet old enough. How did Welles have so much presence at such a young age? This movie uses a young man to show us. After a standing ovation, Welles asks himself exuberantly, “What will I do to top this?” In 1940, he began preparations for “Citizen Kane.”

Variety, Thompson on Hollywood, Anne Thompson, 6 September 2008

Toronto Watch: Me and Orson Welles

Richard Linklater, never one to worry about commerciality, takes a high dive off the deep end with this period evocation of the early days of the Mercury Theatre, based on a book by a player who was 15 when he first encountered Welles. Linklater and co. try for total virisimilitude; the impersonation of Welles by Brit Christian McKay (who has done a Welles one-man show) is uncanny and delightful. Also surprisingly winning is Zac Efron of Hairspray fame who shows just the right blend of insecurity and sexy swagger as he takes a part as Lucius in Julius Caesar and woos Welles’ assistant, Claire Danes, as a charismatic older woman on the rise in the theatre. “What’s it like to be a beautiful woman?” he asks her.

The movie is being sold by Cinetic here; the hope is that Miramax (which attended the first public screening Friday night along with a bevy of other buyers including Sony Pictures Classics and Magnolia) will want to continue to burnish the fortunes of Efron, Disney’s High School Musical star. But the brutal truth is that Efron is breaking out from his usual youthful femme fan base here; this movie will appeal to a narrow band of showbizphiles only.

Variety, Todd McCarthy, 6 September 2008

Me and Orson Welles

An extraordinary impersonation of the American theatrical boy wonder by the young English actor Christian McKay is the indisputable highlight of “Me and Orson Welles,” an agreeable, reasonably convincing imagining of the circumstances surrounding Welles’ legendary staging of “Julius Caesar.” Another let’s-put-on-a-show venture for Zac Efron, albeit of a rather more sophisticated variety, this British-produced period piece will test how much the “High School Musical” star means as a movie name. Richard Linklater’s amiable entertainment will likely score OK numbers theatrically, with a nice ancillary life awaiting.

Script by longtime Linklater associates Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo closely adheres to the contours of Robert Kaplow’s novel, which drops a fictional, theater-crazed 17-year-old into the final week of rehearsals of Welles’ vaunted 1937 modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s play. Aside from the kid, Kaplow’s work was a thoroughly researched account that provided a plausible feel for what it might have been like during those final crazy days before the opening.

Linklater absolutely honors that fidelity to theater history, involving such affiliated figures as John Houseman, Joseph Cotten and Norman Lloyd in the drama and creating a credible look for scenes from the Mercury Theater’s “Caesar” production itself, no small accomplishment.

The perspective on these momentous days in theater lore is provided by Richard Samuels (Efron), a high school student who, after a chance sidewalk encounter, is asked by Welles to play the small role of Lucius. Ambitious can-do assistant Sonja (Claire Danes) warms to Richard quickly, while Welles sweeps him into his orbit by taking him, by speeding ambulance, to one of his day jobs, where he dazzles all by improvising during a live-theater broadcast.

It’s a heady world Richard has landed in. At a mere 22, Welles had just recently served notice of his brilliance with his all-black production of “Macbeth” in Harlem, and he and Houseman (Eddie Marsan), with whom he bickers here constantly, are intent on making theatrical history with the Mercury show. Early on, Richard is warned never to criticize the boss, and told he’ll have to tolerate lots of bad behavior in exchange for the the privilege of basking in genius.

The somewhat unlikely personal plot has Richard becoming involved with older woman Sonja, the “ice queen” who’s the object of unrequited lust for every man in the company, including ladies’ man Cotten (James Tupper), then exploding when he feels betrayed by Welles. But the immature boy inevitably takes a back seat to Welles himself, especially when he’s represented as uncannily as he is by McKay.

McKay, who previously portrayed the big man in the stage piece “Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles,” has very much the right look for Welles at that time. More crucially, he can reproduce the sonorous vocal timbre. Best of all, he precisely catches Welles’ humor, with arched eyebrow, ironic sense of amusement and mocking self-modesty.

This Welles permits just one fleeting glimpse of his inner self, when he shows Richard his marked-up copy of “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Otherwise, he consists of one part intimidating bluster, two parts seductive charm and three parts talent, and there are moments, especially when Welles is alternating between acting as Brutus and directing everyone else, that it’s possible to forget you’re watching an actor and really believe you’re beholding Orson Welles at work. At one point it seemed, on the basis of five minutes in “Ed Wood,” that the only actor who could convincingly portray Welles was Vincent D’Onofrio. Now McKay’s got the job whenever there’s call for it.

Shot in the unlikely setting of the Isle of Man, notably in its restored Gaiety Theater, which fills in beautifully, and London, pic does a reasonable job of repping Depression-era Gotham on a budget. But the film, and the comic moments in particular, could have used more snap, some real New York energy. There’s too much spare time for dates and private encounters during the mad run-up to opening night; the novel’s frantic, sweaty-palms sense of nerves is lacking here.

Although he’s adequate, Efron never feels like a proper fit for Richard. The handsome thesp is too self-possessed and sure of himself for a teenage interloper in the big time; he lacks uncertainty and self-doubt. Danes is energetic and engaging as a smart woman most attuned to self-interest. Marsan as Houseman, Leo Bill as Lloyd, Tupper as Cotten and Ben Chaplin as the self-important, eternally pessimistic actor George Coulouris all have their moments.

Production and costume design help bring the period of 70 years ago to life. Richard Pope’s widescreen lensing is well composed, but images looked weak, as if from too dim a projector bulb, in the digital presentation caught at the first Toronto fest public showing. End credits were incomplete, so final running time will be two or three minutes longer than the posted 109 minutes., Edward Douglas, 15 September 2008

The Toronto Film Festival Wrap-Up


Again in order from best to worst, our favorite movie that we watched in the past week was Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, starring Zac Efron as Richard, a young wannabe who comes to New York in 1937 and winds up acting in Orson Welles’ groundbreaking production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at the newly-opened Mercury Theater on Broadway. This was such a fun and witty theatrical-based film with a terrific ensemble cast, many of them playing real people, like the always-great Eddie Marsan (Hancock) as acting legend John Houseman and Ben Chaplin as George Couloros, but it’s clearly Christian McKay’s performance as Welles himself that really drives the movie. He’s quite amazing in the role, having played it on stage in a little-seen off-Broadway play, but Efron does a great job turning on the charm as an ambitious young man who’s almost like a more naïve and innocent version of Welles. Anyone who thinks Efron is only good for singing and dancing may be surprised what a strong performance he pulls out against far more experienced actors including Claire Danes as the older theater manager he falls for. Based on a novel, this is obviously a fictionalized version of the events surrounding the production, but the script by Holly and Vincent Palmo is great. Though the movie does sometimes go for the most obvious and hokey cinematic beats, it’s probably one of the best films Linklater has directed since Before Sunset. Maybe like with Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, it’s such a different type of movie that we’ve come to expect from the prolific and always fascinating Austin filmmaker that one has to take notice, but It’s especially entertaining to watch him pull off a period piece that’s so heavy on production design and setting. He really does pull it off, finally proving to be a director who can do almost anything. A smart distributor should be able to make some nice change on the movie, since it’s a crowd-pleasing film that older audiences will love.

CinemaBlend, J.D. McNamara , 6 September 2008

TIFF Review: Me And Orson Welles

Everyone knows who and what Orson Welles was. That should be enough to get you interested in Richard Linklater’s newest film, in which relative newcomer Christian McKay plays the gregarious Welles himself. Me and Orson Welles is carried by great performances, like the one from McKay, and costars Claire Danes, and Zac Efron.

In November of 1937, Richard Samuels (Efron) is a romanticizing teenager who dreams of making it big on Broadway. When a chance encounter with Orson Welles (McKay) lands him a small part in the Mercury Theatre troupe’s production of Julius Caesar, Richard is thrust headlong into his dream, and under the protective wing of New York’s most prominent actors, no less. Richard’s charisma and confidence quickly net him various friends around the set: a date with the beautiful Sonja (Danes) (and subsequent kudos from the other young males), the respect of the older actors, and even a compliment from Welles himself. However, Richard soon realizes that everything in showbiz is not what it seems, including the true nature of beautiful women and the rapidly changing temperament of Welles himself. But Richard refuses to back down from anyone, even Orson, and as opening night grows ever closer the tension and excitement feverishly mounts. Only one question remains: will Julius Caesar be a showstopper or a flop?

Linklater has given us many great films over the years, including some with mesmerizing work behind the camera. But since Me and Orson Welles is a film about actors and acting, he wisely leaves it all in the hands of his players, choosing a more subtle approach that guides them through the film. With a breakout performance from McKay, who effortlessly brings to life the gargantuan figure of Orson Welles, and solid support from Danes and Efron, Me and Orson Welles is an acting clinic, and a must see.

First Showing, Alex Billington, 6 September 2008

Toronto Review: Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles

I would have never thought that a period piece about Orson Welles directed by Dazed and Confused‘s Richard Linklater would be any good, but I was wrong. Me and Orson Welles is Linklater’s latest film, a very intimate portrait of Orson Welles (played by Christian McKay) and his work (meaning both directing and starring in) the theatrical production of “Ceaser” in 1937. The story is told through the eyes of Richard Samuels (played by Zac Efron), an 18-year-old kid who gets a bit part in the play as Lucius and comes to experience first-hand the wrath of the legendary Welles. The film is pretty much a typical amusing period piece, however McKay’s exceptional performance as Welles really pushes the film to the next level.

Samuels, an ordinary kid with more lofty goals than just finishing school, ventures into New York City and snags a role in Orson Welles’ play. He’s introduced to the lovely Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), who is Welles’ production assistant, and soon begins to fall for her, including joining in on a $5 bet that he’ll get into her pants before anyone else. As is always the case, no dramatic story is complete without that female character who messes up everyone’s perfect little plan for success, and in this it’s no different. Me and Orson Welles never really steps above and beyond the bounds of a typical period piece set in the 1900’s, but if it weren’t for McKay’s brilliant embodiment of Welles, I probably would have been far less entertained.

If you find it troublesome to enjoy period pieces about plays, then be sure to stay away from Me and Orson Welles. However, if you’re an Orson Welles fan or simply curious to see what it would be like to spend a few months with one of this world’s most prolific filmmakers, then it’s well worth watching. Orson Welles’ boisterous personality so perfectly portrayed by Christian McKay adds an extra level interest to the film that was utterly captivating to watch. By the time it ended, I wanted nothing more than to see further portraits of Welles throughout the remainder of his life, up to the time when he made both Citizen Kane and Macbeth. Thankfully Efron’s character is around to balance out the intensity.

Linklater’s directorial presence doesn’t exactly shine through as brightly here in Me and Orson Welles, and that’s because he does his job of setting it up and steps back to let both Efron and McKay take the to the stage. Last year’s Toronto film Married Life, another dramatic period piece, was such a bore to watch that I was nearly frustrated by the time it ended. While watching this, I was worried at first it would end up much the same, but luckily it continued to remain funny, entertaining, and captivating straight through to the end. Zac Efron also deserves a mention for putting in an above-average performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen from him. Overall it’s quite entertaining, but nothing above the ordinary.

Toronto Rating: 7 out of 10

Time Out Chicago, Ben Kenigsberg, 6 September 2008

Toronto Film Festival, Day two: Tolerable cruelty

The big-ticket item last night was the world premiere screening of Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, a film that—in what sometimes turns out to be an ominous sign (I’m thinking specifically of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland)—won’t be appearing in any of the other fall festivals. But that’s unaccountable: The movie is a delight, a thoroughly entertaining slice of historical fiction about a 17-year-old (Zac Efron) selected to play Lucius in Welles’s Mercury Theater production of Julius Casear. The movie is aided immeasurably by unknown Christian McKay, who not only sounds like Welles (in real life, too, judging from the onstage Q&A), but captures his mannerisms and his ability to make everyone around him feel like a world-class talent. The backstage intrigue finds a balance between celebrating the triumphs of ensemble work and depicting what it’s like to take a back seat to a genius; the film has the idealism of most coming-of-age films, but cut with a bracing dose of cynicism, particularly when it comes the life lessons the main character learns from the Mercury’s resident object-of-desire (Claire Danes, pictured above with Efron).

One of Linklater’s hallmarks as a director has been his consistency.

AICN, El Chivo, 6 September 2008


Richard Linklater has previously earned the right for me to be excited about seeing his films regardless of what they’re actually about. Turns out this is from a fiction novel by Robert Kaplow, which was based on a famous photo of Orson Welles and a young man performing together during Welles’ 1937 production of Julius Caesar. “That guy playing Orson Welles was genius!” That seemed be the comment coming from nearly everyone’s mouth after the screening. It’s true. Christian McKay as Welles is the perfect, magnetic magic of an actor playing a role they were born to play. It’s no surprise to learn McKay’s resume includes various BBC radio projects. Claire Danes was looking mighty nice in person and does an excellent job onscreen as an unashamed, flawed love interest for Zac Efron’s character (the “ME” of the title). A small contingent of the Zac Efron fan club was present at this, the World Premiere. Thankfully, they were mostly civil and kept the shrieks to a minimum. Efron isn’t great and isn’t terrible. He’s adequate when his character is actively engaged, but spends a fare amount of time starring somewhat blankly and whatever else is going on as Welles tries to ready the Mercury Theater for opening night. The tone is light throughout, but so too is the overall impression of the film. McKay’s portrayal of Welles is one for the film history books, while the rest is charming, but a bit slight. Also, what was going on with the color red being used everywhere, all the time? My TIFF People’s Choice Ballot: 3 out of 4.

The Boston Globe, Ty Burr, 6 September 2008

Toronto, Day 2: Spike, Nick, Pitt, Zac, and Jean-Claude

My high hopes for the new Richard Linklater movie, “Me and Orson Welles,” were only partly met. Set in 1937, it’s about another Jersey boy in Manhattan, this one a stagestruck high schooler who gets a bit part in the soon-to-be-legendary Mercury Theatre production of “Julius Caesar,” directed by and starring Orson Welles. The Great Man is played by Christian McKay (who previously played Welles in a one-man stage show) as an immensely gifted baby tyrant, but the catch is that the kid is played by Zac Efron of “High School Musical” fame. He’s not bad, just far out of his league, and Linklater himself seems a little cowed by the deluxe production design and period ambience. The result is a good film that could have been great, stiff in the places it should have soared. Worth a look when it comes out, though, especially if you’re a fan of the time and place. Plain Dealer, Clint O’Connor, 7 September 2008

Orson Welles lives at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO – Rick Linklater is such a talented director with such a diverse resume: “Before Sunrise” (and Sunset), “Dazed and Confused,” “School of Rock,” “A Scanner Darkly,” and “Fast Food Nation,” among others.

He has a sharp eye for what makes movies compelling, so I was jazzed to see his latest today in the TIFF — “Me and Orson Welles.” It is a completely entertaining and enjoyable Broadway-behind-the-scenes look at Welles producing his version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at the Mercury Theatre in 1937.

The re-imagining is courtesy of Robert Kaplow’s novel. We follow young Richard (Zac Efron) as he talks his way into a part in Welles’ show and meets up with Joe Cotton (James Tupper; Jack from “Men in Trees), John Houseman (Eddie Marsan), and Welles’ assistant, Sonja (Claire Danes).

I’m a pushover for any movie made in the 1930s or set in the 1930s, and Linklater is on the money with the spirit and tone of his film.

Efron is terrific. But the absolute standout is the barely known Christian McKay as Welles. McKay, who apparently was discovered doing a one-man Welles stage tribute, looks and talks like the blustery genius who gave us “Citizen Cane” and “War of the Worlds.”

McKay is brilliant. It’s a huge performance. I highly recommend this little gem (although it may not be released nationally until next year).

Cinematical, James Rocchi, 11 September 2008

TIFF Review: Me and Orson Welles

At any large film festival, it’s easy to get caught up in the buzz and the biz of it – most of the time, the press screenings are really press and industry screenings, which means that the person sitting next to you is not some fellow ink-stained wretch who will watch the film and have to write a review but, rather, an acquisitions person who will watch the film and, perhaps, write a check. This doesn’t just lead to seat-hopping and movie-jumping as the acquisitions people shrug No, not for us and leave so they can continue their quest; it also leads to getting caught up in an atmosphere where questions of commerce can come more readily to mind than questions of art.

So it was with the Toronto screening of Me and Orson Welles, where my feeling warmed and charmed by Richard Linklater’s recreation of 1930’s literary New York came on the heels of a much more pointed question — namely, who the hell is going to see it? Starring Zac Efron as a young would-be actor who’s recruited for a bit part in Orson Welles’ 1937 Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar, the film skews young in energy and execution, but unless teens are lured into caring about old-timey theater by Efron’s name, it’s unlikely they’ll go; older audience members, who have the advantage of actually knowing, and caring, who Orson Welles is might be put off by the presence of Mr. Efron, who they know solely from their childrens’ repeated viewing of High School Musical.

Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say — because Me and Orson Welles is actually a nicely-made, warmly-shaped story of life upon the wicked stage, as Efron’s untested actor (when asked what theater he’s done, Efron’s Richard Samuels shrugs: “Mostly shows at school.” Ha, ha …) gets a bit part in a big show run by a big man, Orson Welles (played by Christian McKay, who’s played Welles on-stage before). Welles is a bully, but a brilliant one; as his right-hand woman Sonja (“with a ‘j” …”) Miles (Clare Danes) notes, “… In the hope of working with him, you forgive a lot of behavior.” She should talk.

Linklater’s managed to craft a believable world with minimal resources; lots of action takes place in he theater, but we do get several scenes in a lovingly recreated ’30s Manhattan. As Richard climbs on board the vehicle of Welles’ will only to be later thrown under the bus, he gets a quick, cruel course in why exactly there’s no business like show business. Holly Gent Palmo adapts Robert Kaplow’s novel for the screen, as Richard begins a romance with Sonja and watches Welles pull brilliant theater seemingly out of thin air. Welles is a brilliant artist, a top-notch bastard and a world-class skirt-chaser; if the 35-year-old McKay seems a little unbelievably baby faced, remember that at the time Welles was 22. (In another age, the 22-year old Welles would have put together a band and put a single out on Matador; in the ’30s, he started a theater troupe. Same spirit, different times.) McKay’s part seems a little broad and big until you realize just how well it reflects the way the real Welles was playing a part; several shots and lines of dialogue echo moments that would come later in Welles’ life, but again, the movie going 15-24 demographic is not waiting expectantly to decide which film they should go to on the weekend based on the question of which film has the most, or best, references to The Third Man.

Efron’s a perfectly charming leading man, even if he looks disconcertingly handsome; another actor may have been better, but you can’t help but shake the feeling that Efron was cast not solely for his in the role in the film, but also for his role in the pre-production balance sheet. Danes is fine as a plucky striver with a heart of lead, while Linklater gets the tone of a behind-the-scenes comedy drama just right, the flurry of activity on-stage and the “noises off,” the parts played when the lights are up and the roles played when the theater is empty. Welles commiserates with Richard late in the film: “If people can’t find you, they can’t dislike you.” From almost any other film maker, you’d know what to expect, but Linklater’s films (Slacker, Fast Food Nation, Dazed and Confused) have always understood that life is random – which is another way of saying life is not fair — and he side-steps the easy sentiment another director would have tacked onto the film. Me and Orson Welles won’t find a mass audience, but the audience that does will find it has a lot to recommend it.

moviefone, Kevin Polowy, 12 September 2008

Toronto Film Festival Day 8: Zac Efron Gives Second Best Performance in ‘Welles’

Zac Efron and Orson Welles finally have something in common.

A period piece about a 1937 Orson Welles stage production of ‘Caesar’? Not exactly what you’d expect from Richard Linklater, the man behind ‘Dazed and Confused,’ ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Walking Life.’ A period piece starring Disney pin-up Zac Efron? Even less so.

But ‘Me and Orson Welles’ is one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival, thanks in large part to Efron’s lead performance as a young wannabe actor who hustles his way into the Welles production — and temporarily, into his inner-circle — four years before the man would make ‘Citizen Kane.’ The film paints Welles (Christian McKay) as an eccentric, egomaniac, genius, dictator, and massive a-hole; it’ll certainly give you a newfound image of the movie icon. It will also give you newfound respect for Efron, who proves he can bring the drama (but don’t you worry ‘HSM’ maniacs, he still sings, and his hair is just as impressive). Efron holds his own against the unknown McKay, which is saying a ton: McKay’s portrayal of the larger-than-life Welles is a tour de force. I wouldn’t be shocked if they tried to get this baby released in time for Oscar consideration.

Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman, 12 September 2008

Toronto 2008: ‘Rachel Getting Married’ and ‘Orson Welles’

The new Richard Linklater film, Me and Orson Welles,is an affectionate period-piece showbiz comedy set in 1937, whenWelles, then 21, first blasted his way into the orbit of fame with hisMercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar. (It was the year beforehis infamous War of the Worlds broadcast.) There’s one great reason tosee the movie, and that’s Christian McKay’s performance as Welles. Helooks exactly like him—the boy-man baby face rounded out with alittle too much baby fat, the eyes that twinkle with all-knowingcharm—and McKay, who has played Welles on stage, does an altogetheruncanny impersonation of Welles the debonair egomaniac, who cut a swaththrough the Broadway world of stunned producers and leggy chorus girls.McKay gets that melting-butter voice to a T, and he makes the energyof Welles’ genius more than irresistible—he makes it contagious.

I wish I could say the same for Me and Orson Welles.Linklater has framed the weeks of frantic rehearsal leading up to thepremiere of Julius Caesar as the story of a naive young actor who talkshis way into Welles’ stock company, and Zac Efron, who plays thisbushy-tailed rube, is such a genial blank on screen that when he woosthe Mercury Theatre secretary (Claire Danes), we seem to have landed inthe middle of one of Woody Allen’s quaintest, most mediocre fables. Meand Orson Welles is always sweet, but except for McKay’s performance,it has so little fire that Orson Welles would have wondered out loudwhat he was doing stuck in the middle of it.

Chud, Matthew Torti, 12 September 2008

Toronto International Film Festival: Me and Orson Welles

There is nothing more entertaining than watching a film in which you know the filmmakers had a great time making. Me and Orson Welles is such a film; a light, frothy period piece with interesting, funny characters and one centerpiece performance.

Prior to the screening, the film had been tapped to be Zac Efron’s breakthrough into the world of more mature filmmaking. While Efron’s character is indeed the main character, he can’t even compare to the spirit of Orson Welles prevalent throughout the film, played uncannily by relative unknown Christian McKay.

Me and Orson Welles takes place in New York City in 1937 and tells the tale of high schooler Richard Samuels, who is cast in a production of Julius Caesar for the Mercury Theatre, directed by a brash young man named Orson Welles.

Half the fun of watching this film comes from the fact that we, the audience, are witnessing a young, arrogant and incredibly gifted man (whom we know of and is one of the most important figures in cinematic history) develop into the mad genius that would eventually take Hollywood by storm. In other words, we are seeing history unfold right before our eyes. Even though Citizen Kane is never mentioned, the subtle hints sprinkled throughout pertaining to Welles’ masterpiece are more than evident.

The performances are wonderful all around. While Efron doesn’t quite break the mold of the cookie cutter Disney performer, he definitely shows promise. If he continues in this direction after October’s High School Musical 3 it should be interesting to see how he develops as an actor.

Claire Danes does an adequate job as Sonja Jones, Welles’ assistant and Richard’s love interest. She’s essentially playing the same character she’s played throughout most of her career; while it doesn’t hurt the film in the long run, her lackluster performance shows when she shares the frame with Efron and (especially) McKay.

That said, McKay IS Me and Orson Welles. A theatre actor in the UK, McKay is a relative unknown in these parts. But not for long. He’s been able to do what so many have failed to do before him, which is to humanize Welles. It’s easy for an actor to portray him as the mad genius. But to exude a subtle hint of humility in such a strong, powerful character, that takes great talent and discipline. McKay commands the screen whenever he is present, which is, thankfully, quite often.

While Richard is the main character of this particular story, Welles is the heart and soul of the picture. McKay shows that Welles was both an asshole and a saint; he’d have to be in order to get away with what he did. Even though we see Welles at his belittling worst, we would still jump into the fire if he asked us, just so we could see an infectious smile and get a compliment out of him.

Showing an uncanny talent at capturing a specific period in time through the lens, Richard Linklater proves that he is a director who can effectively tackle any genre without fault. The script, by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr. (based on Robert Kaplow’s book) suffers from a number of pacing isses by the end of the third act, but nothing too severe as to take away from the enjoyment of the film. Also, for a film close to two hours, it seems a little too long for the story it tells.

Me and Orson Welles is a fun, enjoyable film that takes place during the early career of a highly respected (and feared) artist who would become a legend. A wonderful story, beautiful attention to detail and great performances (primarily McKay’s stellar, Oscar worthy turn) make for a unique spin on the all too familiar coming of age tale.

7.5 out of 10

Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeffrey Wells, 11 September 2008

McKay’s Welles

Zac Efron is astute, capable and alert as the young-lad protagonist in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, a light-hearted period drama set against the creation of Welles’ Ceasar, a modern-dress adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic, at Manhattan’s Mercury Theatre in 1937.

But Christian McKay’s performance as Welles is the thing to see and hear. He’s got the deep timbre, the stentorian voice, the attitude, the swagger, the size — much better than Vincent D’onofrio’s Welles in Ed Wood (which someone voiced for him anyway…right?), and a truly thrilling act of bringing a legend back to life. And it’s not the first time he’s played Welles, either.

Collider, Peter Debruge, 19 September 2008

Me and Orson Welles

Richard Linklater’s latest imagines what it must have been like for the young high school student tapped to appear in Orson Welles’ revolutionary Broadway production of Julius Caesar — not an especially commercial premise, which is probably why the director agreed to cast Zac Efron as the lucky young thespian (a concession that in turn allowed him to pick the perfect actor to play young Welles, newcomer Christian McKay). Efron brings little more than his doll-faced good looks to the role, though the story itself offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes peek into the mind of a dramatic visionary — vanity, hubris and all.

A.V. Club, Scott Tobias, 8 September 2008

The A.V. Club At TIFF ’08: Day 4

Me And Orson Welles

Headline: A pre-Kane Orson Welles gambles on a Mercury Theater production of Julius Caesar.

Scott’s Take: Hey, did you know Richard Linklater had a new movie? Neither did anyone here until they picked up a Toronto Film Festival schedule—just the first indication that this is a between-pictures lark along the lines of Tape rather than the next A Scanner Darkly or Before Sunset. In a nutshell, here’s what I thought of Linklater’s breezy account of Welles’ audacious 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar: Liked “Orson Welles,” hated “Me.” Unfortunately the “Me” in this movie—a teenage dramatist played by Efron (High School Musical)—is in every scene, so getting to the Welles parts takes slogging through stuff like a love triangle involving stage manager Danes or the mini behind-the-scenes drama that take place when everyone’s waiting on the genius to show up. Though the film pays homage to Welles’ bravado and the theater in general, it’s really McKay’s uncanny, larger-than-life performance as Welles that gives it any real life. Had Linklater tossed out the “Me” part and zeroed in on Welles and his creative process, he might have been onto something. As is, there’s only glancing suggestions as to what made this Caesar so special, and a giant hole at the movie’s center. Grade: C+

Time Out New York, Joshua Rotkopf, 13 September 2008 (original page not available on site anymore)

Toronto: All the world’s a rage

The festival wanes. Crowds thin; critics are getting a little slappy. In such enervated moments (typical to every fest), I recharge with the delicious, minty taste of unchecked ego and anger. Ha, not my own. Actors! A raft of performers, admittedly better than the films they inhabit, have lifted my spirits. They deserve mention, first and foremost Christian McKay, a purring tiger who brings the young Orson Welles to feisty, spitting life in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles. Wow.

This is the pre-Citizen Kane Welles, the radio-showboat Welles and fearsome stage-director Welles (“I’ll show you a dictator!”). As his title implies, Linklater has made one of those I-walked-with-greatness films, about a kid (Zac Efron) who briefly joins the Mercury Theatre. But who cares about any of that, when McKay is shouting, gesticulating like a Shakespearean natural and supplying such basso-profundo *******dom? Let’s get McKay in a full biopic of the director stat, and not tell Che’s Steven Soderbergh about it.

LA Weekly, Scott Foundas, 13 September 2008

Citizen Lame

Having always thought fondly of Richard Linklater’s underseen and underrated 1920s bank-heist comedy The Newton Boys, I’ve been eager to see the versatile, Austin-based director take another stab at directing a period film. Unfortunately, after catching up with Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles here in Toronto, I wish he hadn’t. Based on a 2005 young adult novel by Robert Kaplow, this is one of those whimsical historical films in which we see some storied event — in this case, Welles’ landmark, 1937 staging of Julius Caesar — through the eyes of a minor background player. As Stephen Sondheim so memorably put it in his Pacific Overtures, “Without someone in a tree/Nothing happened here.”

In Me and Orson Welles, that eyewitness to history is an eager-beaver high-school student named Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), who fast-talks his way into Welles’ Mercury Theatre company and lands a bit part in Caesar as Lucius, the lute-playing servant boy who sings Brutus (played by Welles in the famous production) a gentle lullaby early on in Act IV. Naturally, the backstage drama at the Mercury rivals the Shakespearean text, as Welles (played with spot-on mimicry, but ultimately little nuance by British newcomer Christian McKay) postpones opening night, revises wildly on the spot, burns bridges and betrays friendships, all while somehow making everyone feel privileged to bask in his titanic genius. Those scenes are amusing up to a point, but given Linklater’s considerable gifts as a keen observer of human behavior, they’re curiously void of any real insight into Welles’ creative process, a life in the theater, or anything else the movie thinks it’s about. After a while, it starts to feel like we’re watching a bunch of gesticulating lookalikes in a Broadway waxworks.

Still, better that than the hopelessly dopey, charmless flirtation between Richard and Welles’ pert, upwardly mobile assistant (played in an atypically arch, fussy performance by Claire Danes). Together, they have all the romantic chemistry of two embalmed corpses, while Efron in particular is so markedly unconvincing as a Noel Coward-reading, Cole Porter-quoting bon vivant that Justin Timberlake would have been eminently preferable. The play’s the thing here, with Linklater’s climactic, lovingly detailed depiction of Caesar’s opening night somewhat — but not nearly enough — redeeming what we’ve had to sit through to get there. I didn’t go into Me and Orson Welles expecting another All About Eve exactly, but the folly of Linklater’s film is that it make you think more kindly upon Shakespeare in Love.

The Playlist, 12 September 2008

TIFF Review: Richard Linklater’s ‘Me And Orson Welles’

Easily the least engaging film we’ve seen so far, Richard Linklater’s “Me and Orson Welles,” wasn’t terrible — it was mostly unremarkable.

About a young aspiring actor (a surprisingly decent Zac Efron) who randomly lands a theater gig of “Caesar,” with pre-movie fame but still renowned Orson Welles. We wonder what compels a filmmaker to tell a story like this.

Not because its bad but the story – set in the mid-30s, must have felt like a nice period-piece change of pace. The script is rather clever at times but if you’re going to spend two years or so of your life on a film you want probably want to tackle something that really means something.

This is ‘Orson Welles’ main problem. It is relatively funny, it’s well acted (Christian Mackay nails Welles deep booming intonation) and it can be charming (mostly due to Claire Danes), but is overall lifeless and lacks soul (we should note that Ben Chaplin is pretty solid too).

Assisting in the stiffness is the sets. If you’re going to shoot a film about 1930s New York, you probably don’t want to shoot it on a clean studio lot that one can spot a mile away and the green screen to capture the Manhattan skyline doesn’t help either.

The actor who plays Joe Cotton (James Tupper, previously seen as the romantic lead in Anne Heche’s TV show Men In Trees) is rather good, and the subtle nods to the “Third Man” and “Touch of Evil,” are fun, but this pic is another film in the mostly unsatisfying recent past of Linklater’s work. He’s a solid director, but I don’t think we’ve deeply cared for one of his films in a long time — perhaps “The School of Rock,” which was cute and winning.

“Me And Orson Welles,” is fine one supposes, but not necessarily worth writing home about. [C+], Mark Daniell, 7 September 2008

Me and Orson Welles

Director Richard Linklater is kind of like the John Mayer of movies. If you don’t like dialogue-driven films (of which he has done several, including Before Sunrise/Sunset and Waking Life), then you can trade those for straight comedy (Bad News Bears, School of Rock). If you don’t like either, he does sci-fi (A Scanner Darkly) and weaved Eric Schlosser’s non-fiction best-seller, Fast Food Nation, into a collection of short vignettes.

So now comes Me and Orson Welles, which, based on Robert Kaplow’s novel of the same name, tells the story of Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), a high school student whose dreams of stardom lands him a plumb role in Welles’s production of Julius Caesar.

But the thing I liked about this movie was its similarity to Linklater’s 1994 coming-of-age tale about those ‘two people on the train’ – Before Sunrise.

Efron and his romantic interest (played by Claire Danes) have the same wonder and youthful optimism Jesse and Celine did in that first film. So even though the story is kind of blah (maybe that’s the weather talking), the performances, bookended by Christian McKay’s gruff rendering of Welles, are immediately seductive.

Expect to see more of Efron once he outgrows the High School Musical series.

Awards Daily, Nancy Kriparos, 8 September 2008

Festival Diary

Later that day I saw a screening of Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles starring Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin and introducing Christian McKay in a career making performance as Orson Welles. Efron, Linklater and McKay were present at the screening and introduced the film and then later Linklater and McKay stayed for a Q & A. This is a wonderful film that reminds us of the genius that was Orson Welles. Efron plays teenager Richard Samuels who is hired as a bit player by Welles for his new Mercury theatre troupe where they are mounting a production of Julius Caesar. Samuels is dazzled by Welles but also falls for the Welles’ Girl Friday, Sonja(Danes). The performances are very good in this. Efron displays much more range and maturity as an actor then his previous efforts. McKay is extraordinary as Welles. He brilliantly captures the essence of Welles as this charming, bigger than life, yet flawed genius.

At the Q & A that followed I asked Mr. McKay about his preparation for the role. McKay read all of the biographies on Welles as well as listened to all of his performances on radio and watched all of his films. The director was asked about the process in making the film. Linklater had purchased the rights to the book and then went on the crucial search for someone to play Welles. Coincidentally, McKay was doing a one man show in New York about Welles and Linklater went to see it. Linklater subsequently invited McKay for some screen tests and upon deciding he had found his Welles remarked to McKay, “Lets now find some stars for you to play with”. Linklater was always fascinated about Welles and doing the film about Welles at the beginning of his career seemed very interesting. The director also said the film also fulfilled a dream to do Shakespeare on film, without doing an entire film.

… and the winner is, Scott Feinberg, 7 September 2008


These days, few if any males are more popular with the bobby-soxer demographic than Zac Efron, the actor whose good looks and voice single-handedly turned High School Musical (2006), High School Musical 2 (2007), and Hairspray (2007) into phenomenal commercial successes. This week, Efron, who is a month shy of turning 21, is in Toronto to call attention to his latest film, Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles (no U.S. distribution yet), which is quite different from anything else he’s ever done before. Set in 1930s New York, Efron plays a 17-year-old aspiring actor who has a chance meeting with Orson Welles outside the famed Mercury Theatre, impresses the great master, and is given the opportunity of a lifetime when Welles invites him to play Lucius in his production of Julius Caesar. Efron befriends the rest of the acting company, romances the secretary (Claire Danes), and learns some hard lessons along the way to opening night.

I’ll have more to say about the film when I have a minute to write it up, but for now I’ll note that Efron gives a surprisingly mature performance thatleads me to believe he’ll be around for years to come (and not only in singing roles), and share the audio of my chat with him (about the film, singing, and his relatively new celebrity) at Friday evening’s post-premiere after-party…

InContention, John Foote, 11 September 2008

TORONTO: ‘Good,’ ‘Me and Orson Welles,’ ‘Every Little Step,’ ‘The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,’ ‘The Hurt Locker’


Remember the name Christian McKay. Sear it into your memory.

This young man becomes a star with his astounding performance as the young genius Orson Welles in Richard Linklater’s new film. “Me and Orson Welles” explores the famed filmmaker’s theatrical work in the days before he came to Hollywood to change movies forever with “Citizen Kane.” McKay transforms himself into the tyrannical, mysterious Welles, capturing the man’s beautiful speaking voice, his cadences, his movement, and most brilliantly, his presence.

When McKay appears on screen for the first time, all eyes go to him and never leave; it is as though Welles has stepped out of a time machine. Like most film critics and film professors I have read everything written about Orson Welles, studied his films, his work, listened to old interviews, read the transcripts of others, and find him altogether fascinating. How could that sort of sheer genius live within one man and burn out so quickly?

Or did he burn out? Did Hollywood just tire of him and cast him aside? Here we see him before “Kane” as he was coming to terms with his enormous talents and using them to great advantage in the New York theater scene.

Fresh-faced “High School Musical” star Zack Efron portrays a young actor who comes to New York to study and is offered a role in Welles’s new production of “Julius Caesar,” which would of course become legend. He accepts the part and cannot take his eyes off of Sonja (Claire Danes), the pretty young woman who is Welles’s girl Friday. She seems to understand him when no one else can or does, and accepts his mood swings and arrogance. His explosions of temper are hurricanes of fury, settled only when things go directly his way.

The manner in which Linklater captures the backstage theater environment is wonderful. Having a strong theatrical background, (I studied to be an actor and ended up directing 42 plays), I felt instantly the authentic atmosphere, from the cramped dressing rooms to audneice-filled front of the house. The fleeting romances, the massaging of those precious egos to get the results needed on stage, and the bitter feuding and back stabbing are all here. It is a miracle sometimes that a play ever gets off the ground considering what it takes to get them there.

McKay is miraculous in the role of Welles. I have never seen an actor portray this character with such confidence and authenticity. Christian McKay is gone…he IS Welles, capably capturing the laser intellect of the man. And yet it as though we were meeting the young Welles for the first time.

It is nice to see Zack Efron stretching his acting muscles beyond those wretched Disney musicals that my daughters love so much, and to his credit, he does a pretty good job as the wide-eyed green horn getting what he hopes will be his big break. My God, can you imagine in 40 years, knowing he once stood in the presence of Welles? He walked with a legend, and even if his career never panned out, they’ll always have Caesar.

Danes is very good in the role of Sonja, but this is McKay’s film throughout. He is a miracle in the role. And such acting miracles deserve the highest celebration. With this performance I would say he catapults himself into the race for Best Supporting Actor.

Filmblather, Eugene Novikov, 8 September 2008

Me & Orson Welles

Grade: C+

At first glance, Me & Orson Welles is like a million other well-intentioned, not entirely successful prestige pictures vying for attention at Toronto and elsewhere. There’s little about it with the potential to outrage or even surprise anyone. But when considered in the context of director Richard Linklater’s career, it’s jarring — almost revolting. Because though Me & Orson Welles is nice and smart and unobjectionable, it’s the least exciting, least vibrant movie Linklater has ever made.

I say this, obviously, as a great admirer of Linklater’s work; a fan. There’s no shortage of people to swear by his “cult” films — early works like Dazed and Confused, Slacker and Before Sunrise — but I’m a defender of his mainstream efforts, which perennially get short shrift. Movies like School of Rock and The Bad News Bears, while not exactly groundbreaking or intellectually ambitious, have a reckless energy that takes real talent to generate. They’re infectious and alive even as they execute familiar formulas. We may know where these films are going, but Linklater makes them feel like anything can happen.

Me & Orson Welles, though mainstream enough, is nothing like that. It holds back. It’s staid and awkward. The story of an ambitious teenager who is accidentally hired by Orson Welles to play the part of Lucius in his Broadway production of Julius Caesar, it’s meant to be a rumination on being young and talented with the world your oyster; a fairy tale about finding success without betraying yourself or others. Watching it, you can see the movie it’s supposed to be: funny, giddy, wide-eyed with wonder. But somehow it just sits there, dead-eyed.

One of the problems is Zac Efron, the Disney Channel heartthrob who plays the titular “Me” — Richard, an easygoing, good-looking teenager who gets his break of a lifetime after telling Welles what he wanted to hear. If you have kids, you know Efron from High School Musical and its sequel; if you don’t, you may remember him from Hairspray. He is built for those movies, where he can sing, dance, ham it up, and hold the screen by himself in his big scenes. In a film like Me & Orson Welles, he’s a liability. He’s never truly in a scene with someone; he doesn’t really connect or interact. If he delivers a line in close-up, you can virtually hear Linklater saying “action” and then “cut.” The conceit of Me & Orson Welles is that we observe Welles and his theatrical circus through Richard’s eyes, but Efron renders that perspective dull and sterile. He’s no fun to watch; his journey of discovery is boring.

He’s also part of the reason the film never develops any real comic momentum. There’s no gleam in Efron’s eye, and he can’t sell the comedy. Lines that should have been killer (Love interest to Richard: “What do you have to offer?” Response: “Wealth, travel, fame. I can take you to movies that have all that.”) land with a thud. He’s not a good foil for the flamboyant Welles, either, because he doesn’t seem to absorb anything. He just stands there.

Welles is played by Christian McKay, a very funny newcomer who does a pretty good impression of the man. The film and McKay’s performance are both effective in making Welles ambiguous: he’s obviously an arrogant, tyrannical maniac, as well as (the movie asserts) a genius, but is that all he is, or is there kindness and genuine concern hiding behind his artistic persona? Me & Orson Welles makes both possibilities plausible before tipping its hand in the third act. That revelation, and its effect on Richard, is one of the few elements in the film that fully works.

Me & Orson Welles is kind of sweet, in the end, and a little heartwarming; it’s always watchable. But “kind of sweet” and “watchable” isn’t what I’ve come to expect from this filmmaker. The curse of good work and high expectations, I suppose.

The Christian Science Monitor, Peter Rainer, 12 September 2008

Toronto Film Festival: Talent, comedy, crotchety directors

In some ways, if one is talking about Richard Linklater, the disconnect between movie and moviemaker is at first glance equally pronounced. Showing up onstage for the public screening of his new film, “Me and Orson Welles,” Linklater looked as if he might be the assistant electrician who sauntered in from the wings to check the sound levels. But his best movies are so emotionally generous and unpretentious that it soon becomes clear there is no dissonance here at all. He is, I think, the most gifted American filmmaker of his 40-something generation – “School of Rock” is a comedy classic and the lyrical duo “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset” captures the vagaries of young love like no other films. “Me and Orson Welles” is about a teenager, played by Zac Efron, who is cast in Orson Welles’s famous 1937 Mercury Theater production of “Julius Caesar,” and it’s one of the sweetest (and most clear-eyed) valentines to show business ever made.

Filmjournal International, Kevin Lally, 10 September 2008


Also, Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles met with general approval but no deals. The film takes up a much-fabled event for movie and theatre lovers: Orson Welles’ staging of a fascist-themed Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre in 1937. I found the film very likeable, with a spot-on performance by Christian McKay as Welles.

Filmmaker Magazine, Howard Feinstein, 10 September 2008


The Manhattan Richard Linklater attempts to capture in Me and Orson Welles, a UK-backed film, is fake from the get-go. It’s set around Welles’s Mercury Theater in 1937, but the production is hampered by the period fakery. If you are going to place the action seven decades back, then budget the requisite amount. This is plain cheesy, less American than Stilton.

The movie involves a young acting student, Richard (Zac Efron), who gets a non-paying job playing Lucius to the Brutus of Welles (Christian McKay)in a problematic production of Julius Caesar. Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, the producers must have thought that Me and Orson Welles would come to life through McKay’s performance. He had done a one-man show as Welles, and here he is very good. Claire Danes does a superb job as Sonja, the married genius’s girl Friday (and Saturday and Sunday), and Efron is okay, though more of a pretty boy than a gifted thespian at this point.

Linklater is versatile, as we all know, having made two-character romantic films like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and toyed with unique animation, not to mention taking a (disastrous) shot at a cinematic version of Fast Food Nation. This, however, is hack work, servicable but undistinguished. He is a talented, ballsy filmmaker, and I hope this was just a project to pay off the mortgage.

Lucidforce, Adam A. Donaldson, 8 September 2008

TIFF Review – Me and Orson Welles

Richard Linklater is a man well known for his films about hipsters, slackers, dopers and dreamers, but what about the bleary eyed innocence in the young man looking to make his mark on the world through the arts (and I don’t mean School of Rock). The Toronto International Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Linklater’s new film, Me and Orson Welles, a movie he said effectively checks the movie-within-a-movie concept and the Shakespeare picture, off his directorial to-do list. It’s a period comedy-drama that’s about art through determination, talent and sheer force of personality; the unstoppable force versus the nearly immovable object.

In a surprising, dramatic star turn, Zac Efron throws away his Wildcats uniform to play Richard, an aspiring actor still in high school in 1937 New York. One day he finds himself walking past the Mercury theatre during the lighting of their new sign. Richard’s skill at the drum roll impresses the man mounting the theatre’s production of Julius Caesar: Orson Welles (Christian McKay). Richard gets suckered in by Welles’ magnetic personality and bravado; his self assurance and confidence in his own artisanship. Richard also begins to fall for the company’s assured and attractive secretary Sonja (Claire Danes). Little does he know though, that all these new influences in his life are about to collide in a profound way.

Linklater’s cleverness is the way he dresses up what is actually a typical coming of age story into a day in the life biography of one of the 20th century’s biggest showmen, while also being an artistic period piece that exposes the virtues of the theatre. If Me and Orson Welles weren’t so intently focused on character, the whole thing might have felt trite. And Linklater’s proven himself as adept as Welles himself for taking the familiar and getting so far into it, that you don’t recognize the thing you looking at, because you’re seeing it from the inside. Wasn’t A Scanner Darkly, peeling away the high time humour and the animation, a police procedural, and Before Sunrise and its sequel, just a couple of people talking?

Rest assured though, there’s nothing usual about the final product here either. McKay, in his first film role, is the best Welles sine Live Schreiber in RKO 281, a really impressive performance even though I don’t think the voice was quite right. But the thing of it is, you’re not listening to the voice, but rather, like Richard, you’re being drawn in to the aura of Welles. That certain something that made you love him and not be able to forgive yourself for knowing it when he got repugnant. There is great humanity in Welles though as McKay plays him, both the good and the bad. A simple, whispered “thank you” to the back of the theatre manager (Eddie Marsan) as he leaves for the night says volumes about Welles’ character.

But really there are two star turns in the film, and as I’ve said the other belongs, inexplicably, to Zac Efron. He could feed off the High School Musical gravy train for at least another three years, but I admire the young actor for taking a chance on his talent by playing in this sandbox. He’s magnetic and charming, but also vulnerable and driven. You think he’s so mature but the way he handles things later with Sonja required Efron to play both sides of a polar opposite dichotomy equally, and he does so with grace. Danes, meanwhile has never been better I don’t think; she’s smart, sexy and just a little bit dangerous. The kind of girl you just know will take your heart and break it whether you realize it or not. I also want to highlight Zoe Kazan as Greta, a writer that Richard meets and befriends. I would have loved to have seem more of her, but I think she’s in it just enough to get you hooked on her motor-mouthed sweetness.

But this is a quality film that works on all levels, from the characters to the production design to the pacing. It’s unlike any Linklater film I’ve seen, but considering the big personalities involved, it feels in keeping with the rest of his oeuvre. It’s a small film that looks big and it’s personal despite its scope. I think its one of Linklater’s finest and that’s really saying something considering some of the other films that he’s made. I hope that Me and Orson Welles gets a wide release because it’s probably the best thing with the Welles name attached since Citizen Kane.

Fast Forward Weekly, Peter Hemminger, 11 September 2008

TIFF blog: day 7

ME AND ORSON WELLES (dir. Richard Linklater)

Although he was a real person, Orson Welles makes for a fantastic fictional character. The breadth of his talents, the depth of his intellect and the size of his ego all combine into one of the 20th century’s few truly larger-than-life characters. Linklater’s (School of Rock, Waking Life, Before Sunset) latest is the story of a high school kid who lucks his way into Welles’s production of Julius Caesar; kind of an Almost Famous for the theatre crowd. The film is at its best when Welles is around, but is also pleasant enough when dealing with the high schooler’s quasi-relationship with Claire Danes, an ambitious girl willing to sacrifice her personal life, and maybe some of her morals, for her career. A framing romantic subplot feels tacked on, but the chance to bask in the presence of Welles is worth the few missteps.

The Coast, 12 September 2008

For the love of film

My final film of the festival was the one I was looking forward to the most: Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles. Linklater is the most underrated and most diverse contemporary director working today, the same guy who helped define a generation with Slacker (and, unfortunately, gave those mumblecore twits a blueprint), created one of the most iconic teen movies ever in Dazed and Confused, delivered two beautiful love stories a decade apart (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), resurrected rotoscoping via Philip K Dick (A Scanner Darkly), gave Jack Black his best Jack Blackian role ever in School of Rock and was one of the first major directors to shoot on DV (Tape). I COULD GO ON.

Me and Orson Welles stars Zac Efron, of all people, as an aspiring actor in 1930s New York who trips into a production of Caesar directed by Orson Welles (Christian McKay), who’s as egomaniacal and thoughtless as you would expect. It’s a very inside-baseball kind of movie about the theatre, which means it will probably have an audience limited to English majors and New Yorker subscribers, but it’s beautifully shot, very funny and gives Efron his first chance to act (the kid really is a triple threat). Ben Chaplin as a self-serious Shakespearean actor and Claire Danes as an ambitious secretary are solid, and McKay all but steals the show with a Welles who’s grandiose and ridiculous but manages to step out of the way of his own brilliance once in awhile to acknowledge others. Points off for the cheesy final shot, but other than that, it was a terrific relief to end this shrugger of a festival on a high note.

Paste Magazine, Robert Davis, 16 September 2008

Toronto International Film Festival 2008

Me and Orson Welles

Like Soderbergh, Richard Linklater sometimes seems to be working in a see-saw pattern of “one for them, one for me,” following up movies like Tape and Waking Life with a crowd-pleaser like School of Rock. But he’s often blurred the lines, and I’m not sure where I’d seat his latest, Me and Orson Welles, a lighthearted, thoroughly entertaining period drama about a young actor who lands a role in Welles’ Broadway production of Julius Caesar. The film is accessible and straightforward, and it stars young Hollywood actors like Zak Efron and Claire Danes, but Linklater’s flash of brilliance was casting relatively unknown Christian McKay to play Welles. He’s a spitting image for the mercurial actor, and he projects the charisma necessary to explain why so many people flocked to the side of an egotistical but brilliant bastard. So much of Welles’ legacy revolves around Citizen Kane and his (supposed) subsequent decline that I’m also glad to see a story that doesn’t mention either — it takes place earlier, in 1937. Me and Orson Welles does contain a reference to The Magnificent Ambersons, though, Welles’ followup to Kane, and it gives us all a taste of what it must have been like to spend time with Welles in his prime.

The Austin Chronicle, Majorie Baumgarten, 19 September 2008

Scenes from the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival

One movie that stood out from the crowd of several hundred was Austinite Richard Linklater’s latest, Me and Orson Welles. It’s a fictional story about a high school kid who has amorphous dreams of a career in the arts and, by chance, meets Orson Welles in 1937 as he’s preparing his Mercury Theatre Company’s groundbreaking staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Needing a bit player, Welles casts the boy off the street, which becomes an entrée to an extraordinary week spent in the great man’s orbit. This is a portrait of Welles, the mercurial boy wonder, in the years before his fame-sealing radio broadcast of War of the Worlds and the film Citizen Kane. In a career-stretching performance as the moonlighting high schooler, Zac Efron demonstrates that his talent extends beyond High School Musicals; the young Welles is played with perfect inflection and bearing by Christian McKay, who, if there’s any justice, will receive a host of year-end best-actor accolades.

AICN, Beaks, 16 September 2008

Me and Orson Welles

The latest Richard Linklater film takes us behind the scenes of Orson Welles’ stage production of Julius Caesar as seen through the eyes of a neophyte (Zac Efron) who talks his way into a bit part. On the bumpy road to the premiere, we see all the insecurities, ego clashes and logistical nightmares that go along with such a massive undertaking. It’s fascinating stuff, especially the parts with Orson Welles browbeating his underlings (of course, he considers everyone his underling, including the theatre owner). The London stage actor (Christian McKay) who plays Welles is incredible. And Zac Efron is surprisingly not terrible. But his romance with Claire Danes is the weakest part of the movie. Mostly because it takes time away from Mr. “We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time”.

Grade: B-

Premiere, 19 September 2008 (the original page on their site is not available anymore)

The Highs and Lows of the 2008 Toronto Film Festival

There were certainly other highlights — […] Richard Linklater’s charming and stylish Me and Orson Welles, starring Christian McKay as Welles and, yes, Zac Efron as a callow, young, ambitious actor at the Mercury Theater;

Cleveland Scene, Milan Paurich, 24 September 2008

Richard Linklater’s winsome life-in-the-theater fable Me and Orson Welles features an amazing simulacrum of the Citizen Kane genius by newcomer Christian McKay that has to be seen to be believed.

/Film, Peter Sciretta, 18 September 2008

TIFF 2008 Wrap-Up

Me and Orson Welles: An uninteresting adaption and overall disappointing film from Richard Linklater. Christian McKay’s performance as Orson Welles is the only thing noteworthy about it. 5/10

The Boston Phoenix, Gerald Peary, 17 September 2008

ME AND ORSON WELLES, Richard Linklater’s winning re-creation of the backstage machinations at a 1937 production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by a 23-year-old pre–Citizen Kane Orson Welles. Linklater’s Welles, played to the hilt by Christian McKay, is a womanizing, terrorizing megalomaniac who also is charming, charismatic, a genius.

On a Toronto street, I stopped the Chicago-based critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who knew Welles and has written books and essays about him. What were his quick thoughts on the movie? Rosenbaum: “The scene on a park bench where he charms the young man to rejoin his company, that’s Welles. He holding a grudge and getting people fired? That’s not the Welles I knew. He’s such a mythical figure, people invent all kinds of things that had nothing to do with him. But the guy playing Welles is uncanny, getting some of his charm and spirit. So I like the film with certain reservations. I hope it gets distribution, but projects with Orson Welles tend to be cursed.”

Bryn Mawr Film Institute, Juliet Goodfriend, 23 September 2008 (original page is not available on the site anymore)

Bulletin from the 2008 Toronto Film Festival

Me and Orson Welles—Richard Linklater. I may be one of the few who did not like this pic despite the great impersonation of Welles by Christian McKay. Indeed, I would have liked it had it been a one-man show by McKay of Welles—something he does as a day job, in fact! Was it the directing or Zac Efron’s acting that was flat?

Ottawa Citizen, Jay Stone, 19 September 2008

Oh Mickey, you’re so fine

There were also pleasures in performances that were quietly unexpected: Michelle Williams as a young woman on the road who loses her dog in the small, moving film Wendy and Lucy; Kristin Scott Thomas carrying an unhappy secret in the family drama I’ve Loved You So Long; Rachel Weisz showing an unusually ditzy energy in the otherwise baffling con man comedy The Brothers Bloom, and an actor named Christian McKay turning in a beautifully realized performance as Orson Welles — his roar, his charm, the smile of complicity so familiar from Citizen Kane — in the backstage romance Me And Orson Welles.

Unhappily the movie itself, directed by Richard Linklater, never came together, a tragedy for which I blame Zac Efron, who co-stars as a young actor in Welles’s production of Julius Caesar. Efron looks like a young David Cassidy; he also acts like him. I’d say he was a writeoff, but I can picture the day, 20 years from now, when we’re all in line for the new Zac Efron film — something to do with a requiem, probably — and wondering how we got there.

The Strand, Derek Brunelle, 18 September 2008

Coming of Age

Me and Orson Welles

Though obviously a departure from his earlier work, Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles holds on to many of the director’s key trademarks. Premiering in full at last week’s Toronto International Film Festival, Me and Orson Welles follows Richard (Zac Efron), a 17-year-old high school student who escapes the boredom of classroom life to seek out the theatre world of 1937 New York. As fate would have it, Richard stumbles into none other than Orson Welles (Christian McKay), the budding, already larger than life radio and theatre personality. Richard is soon swept into the world of Broadway, cast as Lucius in what would become Welles’ legendary and critical production of Julius Caesar, ala fascist attire.

The film paints a vivid picture of The Mercury Theatre Troupe, along with its eccentric cast and crew, who at times function as a Greek chorus to Welles’ absurd bickering. Christian McKay’s portrayal of the erratic, sometimes boorish, but almost always charming Orson Welles is nearly unsullied. His relationships with various women, his love of magic and romance is revealed along with his view of the world that is centered on him. But stylistic similarities help not to estrange this film from Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Slacker or Dazed and Confused. Regardless of the different period, Me and Orson Welles captures the same genuine quality found in his emblematic, long-winded discussions and earnest character traits – in this case, the naive charm found in Efron’s performance. While wooing Claire Danes’ character Sonja, he tells her: “wealth, travel, fame. I can take you to movies that have all of those things.” Linklater loves the coming of age tale, young romantics with meaningful dialogue that falls far from phony, and this story is no different.

Shot in the old Gaiety Theatre in London, Me and Orson Welles is especially appealing for those who love theatre life; deadlines, disasters, superstitions and the close knit community are all included. The film has a dream-like quality to it, a tremendous wish fulfillment to a young actor’s fantasy. Me and Orson Welles does not overdo itself with its depiction of the era; 1930s New York is simply the backdrop for a wistful adolescent looking beyond his regular life, of being caught up in something more important than he realizes.

Fipresci, Jonathan Rosenbaum, 20 September 2008

History and Egotism: “Me and Orson Welles”

The continuing mythological status of Orson Welles in the realm of cinephilia complicates the challenge of representing Welles on film in many different ways. It’s one of the clearest merits of Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, to have met and grappled responsibly with many if not all of the issues of this formidable challenge.

Working uncharacteristically with a script written by others — Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo, adapting a novel by Robert Kaplow that I haven’t yet read — Linklater tells the story of a fictional high school teenager (played by Zac Efron, best known for his role as Link Larkin in the recent remake of Hairspray) in 1937 who by sheer chance lands a bit part as a lute player in Welles’s famous stage production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a highly edited modern-dress adaptation known as Caesar builtaround the conceit of the story taking place in contemporary fascist Italy, with a bare set illuminated by “Nuremburg” lighting. Linklater has obviously researched existing records of this production (which include photographs, a script published some years ago by Welles scholar Richard France, and at least two audio recordings of the play performed by essentially the same cast around the same time) in considerable detail. And he has found an English actor, Christian McKay, to play Welles (who took the role of Brutus in Caesar in addition to directing it) whose capacity to impersonate the actor-director at age 22 is simply uncanny. What he hasn’t done especially well is convey much sense of the political tenor of the period, late Depression, in which the thrust and meaning of the contemporary fascist allegory of this production had a lot to do with its impact and success. In this respect, one might say that the strengths and weaknesses of this film are almost precisely the reverse of those in Tim Robbins’ 1999 Cradle Will Rock, which depicted a somewhat earlier Welles stage production with more political savvy but much less sympathetic interest in or insight into Welles himself.

Happily, Linklater’s gifts as an entertaining storyteller with a flair for period detail (as he exhibited in his underrated feature of a decade ago, The Newton Boys) makes up for this limitation. He also carries his baggage as a Welles scholar lightly so that audience members aren’t belabored by it: even though some actors’ appearances closely match their real-life counterparts (such as actor Norman Lloyd and even an incidental figure like lighting designer Jean Rosenthal), others don’t (such as actor Joseph Cotton and producer John Houseman), and a few significant figures in the production (e.g. author-composer Marc Blitzstein, who previously wrote The Cradle Will Rock) are essentially ignored. Given the flavorsome yet uncluttered sense of detail throughout, it’s an entirely defensible approach.

The highly entertaining treatment of Welles as a monstre sacré also works very well, although here a greater amount of artistic and thematic license may be necessary in order to accept it all. I think it could be argued that the subtle theme of the story as a whole is egotism — not just that of Welles but also that of his actors and crew, and even that of a young aspiring writer whom the hero gets to know. Welles’ egotism, which has always been an essential part of the Welles myth, is perhaps also the most indestructible part because it serves as an implicit inspiration and even license for the egotism of other young and ambitious artists. One of the most telling sequences in Linklater’s film occurs just after Caesar‘s opening-night triumph, in which all the backstage chatter that we hear from various participants reflects the egotism of the speaker, which this triumph has both unleashed and legitimated. But it doesn’t always match up convincingly with the historical Welles, however gratifying it may be to believe in the mythical version.

Based on my own hour-long meeting with Welles, I would describe him as having been both inordinately self-absorbed and even more inordinately aware of his self-absorption and eager to compensate for it with whatever form of generosity he could muster up, a trait that was no less genuine. This is beautifully illustrated in a key scene in Me and Orson Welles, set in a park behind the New York Public Library (spoiler ahead), when Welles manages to cajole the hero into rejoining the production for opening night after having recently quit in a jealous rage. (The hero, having recently been seduced by an equally ambitious production assistant played by Claire Danes, can’t tolerate it when Welles, a prolific womanizer, takes over as her lover.) What doesn’t ring true is the subsequent twist — when the hero later learns that Welles, carrying a grudge, has replaced him with another actor after the opening-night performance. Judging from all the reports I’ve read and heard from people who worked with Welles, this kind of spitefulness doesn’t ring true, and it seems significant that we never see the character again after we learn this fact, because I’m not sure even Christian McKay could have brought it off.

The Manitobian, Patrick Gratton, 15 September 2008

The best of fest!

Me and Orson Welles

As if he hadn’t proven himself time and time again, maverick filmmaker Richard Linklater, has proven that he might be the most versatile American filmmaker. With a filmography ranging from MTV-produced School of Rock, to the bohemian Before Sunset, Linklater now adds British period piece to his extensive resumé with his latest film Me and Orson Welles.

Headlined by pop sensation Zac Efron (High School Musical), the film documents Orson Welles, played by debut performer Christian McKay, during his1937 production of Julius Caesar at New York’s Mercury theatre. Linklater brings joy to the screen with ease, transcending to an earlier period of film free of sin, where tongue-in-cheek humor was suitable for all ages., J.M. McNab, October 2008

Me and Orson Welles

I first saw Citizen Kane when I was ten. Back then, it was hard for me to reconcile the image of the passionate, young Orson Welles as he acted and directed his way through arguably the greatest American film with the older, overweight Welles I was more familiar with (I think I’d seen him in The Muppet Movie).

Search “Orson Welles” on YouTube and the first video that pops up is an outtake of Orson drunkenly ruining a Champagne commercial. It’s hard to visualize the point in his career when he was the toast of the theatrical community and was considered a full-fledged genius. Not surprisingly, unpredictable director Richard Linklater took an interest in the figure of Welles. Although Me and Orson Welles isn’t a great film, it does authentically satisfy certain curiosities.

In 1937, teenager Richard Samuels (Zac Efron from High School Musical) lands a job at the Mercury Theatre in New York, appearing briefly in Orson Welles’s soon-to-be groundbreaking production of Julius Caesar. Richard quickly becomes infatuated with Sonja (Clare Danes), an ambitious girl who works for Welles (Christian McKay). As the play nears its debut, Richard is spurned by Sonja and risks offending Welles’s volatile personality.

As a story about a young man nearing adulthood it story falls flat. Efron plays the part capably but without any real charm, which would help detract from the superficiality of the character. Richard works only as a device to pull the audience into the world of Orson Welles, wonderfully recreated by McKay. At times, he truly channels Welles, offering the audience both his charm and egomania.

The film also largely serves as a faithful recreation of Welles’s Caesar, as produced on the New York stage. A few photos are the only surviving record of the historic play and Linklater meticulously duplicates its bizarre lighting and modern costumes, giving us an idea of what the actual play must have been like.

On its own, the film doesn’t have much to say, but for anyone with an appreciation or curiosity for Welles, it’s a pleasure. (Cinema X)

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