Friday, November 26, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Me and Orson Welles (2008)

ME AND ORSON WELLES is the entertaining story of a teenaged would-be actor, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron), and the week he spends with the Mercury Theatre company in 1937.

Richard has a chance meeting with the Mercury players outside the theater where they're rehearsing Orson Welles' new modern-dress production of JULIUS CAESAR. Welles (Christian McKay) needs a replacement for the small role of Lucius and gives Richard the part.

Richard spends a roller coaster week observing and interacting with the brilliant but obnoxious Welles, culminating in the play's opening night. Richard also falls for Sonja (Claire Danes), an ambitious theatre employee who aspires to meet David O. Selznick, and he's mentored by a sympathetic Joseph Cotten (James Tupper).

It was unplanned and rather interesting that last night I watched Joseph Cotten in SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944), and then tonight I watched a film where Cotten was a character! Tupper does a good job conveying the essence of the genial Cotten. Other real-life theatre personalities portrayed in the film are John Houseman (Eddie Marsan), George Coulouris (Ben Chaplin), Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill), and Martin Gabel (Aidan McArdle).

Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of Elia) plays an aspiring writer whose encounters with Richard at the beginning, middle, and end of the film help frame the story.

I found ME AND ORSON WELLES enjoyable, if not quite as good as I had hoped based on reviews. The film has nice period atmosphere and solid performances, with McKay's spot-on take on Welles a standout. The best scenes in the film depict the opening night of JULIUS CAESAR; it's thrilling to see the striking production come together successfully after the utter chaos of the final rehearsals.

Unfortunately the movie is overly preoccupied with off-color humor and who's sleeping with who; a bit of that might make sense to illustrate characters, but the heavy emphasis on this angle detracts from the film, which has a story rich with more interesting possibilities to explore. I also question whether the portrayal of Joseph Cotten as an inveterate womanizer was based on fact, considering what I've read about his successful long-term marriages; he would have been several years into his first marriage in 1937. I'd like to know whether that characterization had a factual basis or was concocted strictly for the movie.

This could easily have been a film appropriate for the entire family, but the filmmakers chose not to go that route, which ironically is boringly predictable and undaring in this day and age. The movie is rated PG-13.

With those caveats, the film was worth seeing, and I suspect I might like the movie more viewing it another time; for one thing, it takes a while getting the many characters straight on the first viewing. I think watching the film a second time I'd be able to focus more on the story itself.

This film was directed by Richard Linklater. It runs 114 minutes.

Trailers can be seen at IMDb.

ME AND ORSON WELLES was released on DVD. I'm not sure it was ever sold anywhere but Target; the only Amazon listings are for vendors, and the prices for new copies are fairly steep.


Blogger Irene said...

I did see this in the theater and did get the DVD from Target when it came out. To me the stand out performance was Christian McKay. He overshadowed Zac Efron totally. But I agree on your analyzes of the movies take on relationships and also the language. That was a big disappointment to me. My daughter is really into period pieces of all kinds and loved looking at clothing and cars, etc.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

Thanks for the review. I missed this film in the theater and wanted to see it and then had forgotten about it. I still want to check it out for the subject of Orson Welles. Interesting that Target is the only vendor selling this film.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Missy said...

I watched this recently too, and had a similarly reaction as you.

A few months ago I got to hear a rehearsal for one of Welles' radio dramas. He made a mistake at one point and was so polite and apologetic. Somebody else made a mistake and then they were talking about changing a sound effect, etc....all these little asides throughout in addition to the actual play. It was interesting and all the way through it Welles was kind and professional. I even remember thinking that today's actors would have been less polite. So, to have him foul mouthed throughout the movie seemed out of place to me. I think I also heard that his family said he did sleep around and he would lose his temper, but he never yell obscenities at people.

11:36 AM  

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