You don’t have to be a dick to be an actor, but it seems like a good excuse.
Seventeen-year-old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) spends his days dreaming of the bright lights of Broadway. Richard happens upon Orson Welles (Christian McKay) and his fledgling Mercury Theatre company. Richard impresses Welles and lands an unpaid bit part in the Mercury’s forthcoming run of Julius Caesar. He is taught the ropes by a beautiful, ambitious production assistant, Sonja (Claire Danes). Richard falls into Sonja’s womanly charm almost instantly.
Now I haven’t checked out every single piece of work this legend (Orson Welles) has to offer, but from what I hear there seems to be three things about him: he 1. was talented, 2. was very big on his ego, and 3. was a huge dick. But hey, you can probably get away with number 3 when you’re considered one of the greatest actors and directors of all-time.
I was a tad disappointed to see that Richard Linklater directed this without adding anything of his own writing, but it didn’t matter too much once I realized just how fun and charming a flick like this can be. I have only been a part of 2 or 3 plays and I can easily say that Linklater definitely nailed down what it’s like behind-the-scenes of one. Everybody’s constantly rushing, getting tense, and trying so hard not to mess up their lines that almost anything the slightest thing makes you crazy or pushes you to forget everything. All of that continuous hustle-and-bustle from the first rehearsal to the final show is captured here perfectly; the passion of the people who surround the play is so present that it brings you into this place that makes you forget it’s the miserable thirties.
But who am I kidding?! The real reason this film works so damn well is because of Christian McKay‘s larger-than-life performance as Orson Welles. I have never heard nor seen McKay before but I think he definitely nails everything about Welles from the gruff in his voice, to the ways his eyes move when he’s mad. Welles (as portrayed here) is a genius but is also very egotistical in the way that he only wants the show done his way, and anybody else who dares to argue against his vision will either be kicked to the streets or used for their opening night, then kicked to the curb. Welles may have been a guy that only cared about himself, and himself only, but he also shows a lot of talent when it came to getting just about every detail right and the performance from McKay only proves that to be even more true. McKay doesn’t just sound or act like Welles, he is Welles and for the whole time I was watching him, I couldn’t get past the fact that who I was watching right now wasn’t actually Orson Welles himself. Definitely a performance that should have made him a lot of a bigger name but I guess it was the film’s limited release that sort of screwed him over in that case.
However, as amazing as McKay as Welles is here, he’s also the biggest problem with the flick because when it isn’t on him and is focusing on all of this other junk, it sort of gets a little fluffy and uninteresting. All of the stage stuff was fun to watch but when they started focusing on the story outside of it all, I really started to lose my interest as I found this coming-of-age story to be rather, —bland. It seems like the writers here just borrowed from a whole bunch of other coming-of-age flicks, and found their ways to throw them in there without any real interest in actually moving the plot along. Basically, it’s just here to give us another story that isn’t all about the stage but that’s what I started to miss out on and I think if Linklater at least wrote this, it would have been a lot better.
Claire Danes is pretty good here as Sonja and definitely is a lot happier in this role than she was in Shopgirl. Zac Efron is also good in his role too as Richard (how cute, Linklater), but he definitely sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes right down to it. It’s not that Efron is bad, it’s more that he is just way too Hollywood for this role and movie, and the costuming just looks a little too goofy on him. He definitely has charm: charm that we will see more of in upcoming years, but like wise he doesn’t seem anywhere near the perfect fit for this role.
Consensus: Me and Orson Welles is at its best whenever it focuses on the behind-the-scenes stage antics of 1937 Manhattan and McKay’s perfect performance as Welles, but whenever the focus goes towards its fluffy and bland coming-of-age story, things get a tad uninteresting.