Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Me & Orson Welles
You needn't know much about Orson Welles to see (or like) this movie. Nor do you need to devour Shakespeare. As an unsophisticated and non-well-read viewer, I found Me & Orson Welles to be an enjoyable and unpretentious period piece by Richard Linklater, the director of the also enjoyable, unpretentious, but more comically oriented The School Of Rock. But now, instead of the manic Jack Black, Linklater has cast Zac Efron in the lead, a controversial decision considering many non-twelve-year-old girls consider him a pretty boy unfit for anything past High School Musical. But don't worry, the guy doesn't seem limited to teenybopper franchises, and he does fine here, in a film he rather self-importantly deemed the first of his roles he was actually interested in.
He is backed up by virtual unknown Christian McKay, Eddie Marsan, and talented but typecast Leo Bill, who is forever willing to play the nerd, misfit, psychotic, or pervert. Efron plays Richard Samuels, an ambitious and slightly naive "almost eighteen-year-old" living in new York City in 1937 who regularly skips school, much to the chagrin of his disgruntled mother, and gets a part in the Mercury Theater's production of "Julius Caesar" after publicly singing an awful song about cereal. Womanizer Joe Cotten (James Tupper) and womanizer-in-training Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill), who both have their minds on only one thing (and it's not theater), show him the ropes along with Assistant Sonja (Claire Danes), who Richard promptly develops a crush on.
The show revolves around keeping Orson happy, a self-obsessed terror set on his own talent. Richard won't be paid. You must not argue. The actors laugh, as a knee-jerk reaction, at Orson's unfunny jokes. What does he earn for all this? "The chance to be sprayed by Orson's spit." Why does Richard keep the job at all? He has hope he can make it in the acting business. It's better than going to school. Sonja might be a big part of it. Norman and Joe classily comment that "every man in the show wants to get into her pants," then make a bet- the first one to succeed gets five dollars. It is easy to guess that Sonja will be furious and broken-hearted that Richard made the bet, but it doesn't happen, which highlights the unexpected turns the movie takes.
The rest of the movie concentrates on the quirks of the cast and Orson's ego, as well as Richard's realization that whatever turn the show takes, he wants to be a "part of it all." This is well done, except for occasional bad line. For instance? "What's it like to be a beautiful woman?" Richard randomly asks Sonja. *Wince* What gutter did they pull that from? The only saving grace is that Sonja receives it as a bad line. Zac Efron starts out rather awkward in the first five minutes, delivering such off-kilter lines as "you play with real feeling." The heavily romanticized dialogue just doesn't feel natural, and it's a relief when the lines become smoother and wittier.
Christian McKay plays Orson Welles as perfectionistic, hard-headed, and childish. When he gets in a fight with his actors, he hollers at the top of his lungs, trademark spit spurting out of his mouth, "I am Orson Welles! And every single one of you stands as a adjunct to my vision!" Mm-kay... His unfailingly reasonable agent John Houseman (Eddie Marsan) tries to get through to him, but the bottom line is nothing that Orson Welles doesn't want to do will even be brought to the table. He is a great character, and you see something sympathetic in him, then he throws you for a double loop. Me & Orson Welles is a historical film for people who don't have the time and patience for historical films, and establishes Zac Efron as an actor worthy of some respect (Rated PG-13.)