For this week’s session (as part of Todd Mason‘s weekly ‘Overlooked’ Films series), I have chosen Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles from 2008/9.
The film stars Zac Efron, Claire Danes and Christian McKay as Orson Welles.
The year is 1937 when 17-year Richard Samuels (Efron) and theater wunderkind Orson Welles (McKay) meet via a chance encounter in front of the Mercury Theater with Welles; Welles is in the process of producing Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar. As a result of the encounter, Welles offers the overly eager Richard a role in the play. The film then chronicles the progress of the production; at the same time we are privy to a coming of age story – courtesy of the backstory involving Samuel and aspiring actress Sonja Jones (Danes).
Whenever an actor is portraying a historical figure, especially one who is of such a stature as Orson Welles, it is easy to make immediate comparisons to that person. As Welles, McKay’s portrayal occasionally falls into the category of “very good impression,” but it was fun to watch him take on the Hollywood legend’s bombastic nature and swagger. In a supporting role, Claire Danes does a fine job as the ‘girl who got away.’
To date, I have basically dismissed Zac Efron as just another teenybopper pretty boy. While I will need to see more in his body of work; here in Me and Orson Welles he delivers but never fully captures the spirit of (what’s in my head for the character) the doe-eyed fish out of water to the world of theater. Maybe his turn in Lee Daniels’ upcoming The Paperboy will prove or disprove my theory.
This film is another solid mark on Richard Linklater’s already varied and diverse CV, which includes a couple of my favorite films in recent memory, including School of Rock and the double-bill of Before Sunset/Before Sunrise.
I would not elevate Me and Orson Welles to that status, but it is a film watching to make up your mind about.