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Me & Orson Welles (2008)

Film review: Me & Orson Welles (2008), directed by Richard Linklater

High schooler Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) takes a day-trip to New York. He meets a dreamy, wannabe writer Gretta Adler (Zoe Kazan) in a museum and says he’s an actor.

He finds himself outside the Mercury Theatre, where the cast (including Ben Chaplin, Leo Bill, James Tupper, Aidan McArdle, Kelly Reilly, et al) of a forthcoming production of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar has gathered, waiting for their director, Orson Welles. Welles (Christian McKay) ends up casting Richard as Lucius, one of Brutus’s servants. The part of Brutus is played by Mr Welles himself.

Sonja (Claire Danes) shows young Richard the ropes, and soon there’s a thing brewing between them. Behind the scenes John Houseman (Eddie Marsan) is at his wit’s end – the play is opening on Thursday, it hardly seems rehearsed, and the director doesn’t seem too bothered about it. Why should he be bothered when he’s the great Orson Welles?

Also featuring Imogen Poots as Lorelei, and indeed a number of other Brits, as the film was shot entirely on the Isle of Man and in England’s Pinewood Studios!

After catching bits of The Third Man on TV in February, I needed an Orson Welles fix. Jane Eyre was a bit on the melodramatic side (to put things mildly), but then I remembered I had this DVD (£3 from Tesco, bargain) sitting on the shelf, without having even taken it out of the wrapping yet.

Wow.

Okay, as a film, it does its job. There’s a bit of romance, there’s a bit of conflict and drama and all that. It’s cute, and fairly safe and conventional. As a film about the frantic week before a theatre production opens for the first time, it’s fascinating.

As for the actors, Zac Efron is cute and all, but he’s completely overshadowed by Christian McKay and Orson Welles. McKay’s performance needed an Oscar (he wasn’t even nominated, boo!) because it’s that amazing. I’m by no means an expert on Welles, but the man doesn’t play Welles, he is Welles. Looks, mannerisms, ego, everything.

I didn’t know until afterwards that we’re talking about a 22-year-old (or thereabouts) Welles when this production took place, and okay, McKay doesn’t look like he’s early 20s, but I’ll forgive him for having such an incredible likeness to the real deal. When watching the special features afterwards, McKay came up on screen, and I thought “OMG, who’s this? He must be a relative of Welles, at the very least!” … and then the title came up, saying it was in fact McKay. Could’ve fooled me.

McKay’s success at becoming Orson Welles is probably down to having done a one-man play called Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles. In any case, he’s got the legend down to a tee. And the kicker? He’s British. Thank you, Richard Linklater, for standing by your decision to hire McKay! Now we just need to convince more films to hire the man in big roles. I want to see more of him!

While the real Orson Welles was probably a bit of a challenge to get along with, this film has made me want to see more of him. I feel ever so slightly obsessive now, as it happens.

Anyway. Me & Orson Welles sort of works. It’s an interesting film, but I think Orson Welles is a much more interesting character than Junior, sorry, Richard. Maybe next time, Zac Efron.

4 out of 5 sprinklers. (Three for the film, and one for Christian McKay alone.)

(UPDATE August 2021: So I did eventually end up with a hyperfocus on Orson Welles. His life really is super interesting to read about! No regrets. I also have no regrets about buying and reading the book that this film is based on. It was delightful!)

Traxy

An easily distracted Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on.

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