Toronto Review: Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2008
I would have never thought that a period piece about Orson Welles directed by Dazed and Confused's Richard Linklater would be any good, but I was wrong. Me and Orson Welles is Linklater's latest film, a very intimate portrait of Orson Welles (played by Christian McKay) and his work (meaning both directing and starring in) the theatrical production of "Ceaser" in 1937. The story is told through the eyes of Richard Samuels (played by Zac Efron), an 18-year-old kid who gets a bit part in the play as Lucius and comes to experience first-hand the wrath of the legendary Welles. The film is pretty much a typical amusing period piece, however McKay's exceptional performance as Welles really pushes the film to the next level.
Samuels, an ordinary kid with more lofty goals than just finishing school, ventures into New York City and snags a role in Orson Welles' play. He's introduced to the lovely Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), who is Welles' production assistant, and soon begins to fall for her, including joining in on a $5 bet that he'll get into her pants before anyone else. As is always the case, no dramatic story is complete without that female character who messes up everyone's perfect little plan for success, and in this it's no different. Me and Orson Welles never really steps above and beyond the bounds of a typical period piece set in the 1900's, but if it weren't for McKay's brilliant embodiment of Welles, I probably would have been far less entertained.
If you find it troublesome to enjoy period pieces about plays, then be sure to stay away from Me and Orson Welles. However, if you're an Orson Welles fan or simply curious to see what it would be like to spend a few months with one of this world's most prolific filmmakers, then it's well worth watching. Orson Welles' boisterous personality so perfectly portrayed by Christian McKay adds an extra level interest to the film that was utterly captivating to watch. By the time it ended, I wanted nothing more than to see further portraits of Welles throughout the remainder of his life, up to the time when he made both Citizen Kane and Macbeth. Thankfully Efron's character is around to balance out the intensity.
Linklater's directorial presence doesn't exactly shine through as brightly here in Me and Orson Welles, and that's because he does his job of setting it up and steps back to let both Efron and McKay take the to the stage. Last year's Toronto film Married Life, another dramatic period piece, was such a bore to watch that I was nearly frustrated by the time it ended. While watching this, I was worried at first it would end up much the same, but luckily it continued to remain funny, entertaining, and captivating straight through to the end. Zac Efron also deserves a mention for putting in an above-average performance unlike anything you've ever seen from him. Overall it's quite entertaining, but nothing above the ordinary.
Toronto Rating: 7 out of 10