Review of Me and Orson Welles

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The year is 1937, and high school student Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) lands a role in the daring Broadway production of Julius Caesar. Unfamiliar with the territory, Richard has a lot to learn, especially if he wants to succeed under the direction of Mercury Theatre’s genius director, 22-year-old Orson Welles.
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Movie Review: "Me and Orson Welles"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 114 mins.
Release Date: November 25, 2009
Directed By: Richard Linklater
Genre: Drama

Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a young, eager aspiring actor. While visiting New York, he meets Orson Welles (Christian McKay), and Welles offers Richard the part of Lucius in Welles' adaptation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," which will be the first time the play is performed on Broadway. It will also be the first major production for Welles' theater, the Mercury Theatre. Richard accepts and quickly learns that Welles is having an affair with the lead actress in the play behind his pregnant wife's back. Samuel also notices that one of the production assistants, Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), is interested in him.

Welles confides in Richard that he is afraid that the play will not go well because he had a streak of good luck leading up to the opening that would run out and doom the production. When Richard accidentally sets off the sprinkler system and soaks the entire theater during a rehearsal, Welles thinks his bad luck is beginning. However, Richard convinces him that they were just getting the bad luck out of the way early.

After a tryst with Sonja, Richard becomes jealous when she picks Welles over him. Richard confronts Welles, throwing his affair in his face. Welles promptly fires him, rehires him and fires him again after opening night.

The movie is loosely based on the actual events that took place leading up to Welles' launching of "Julius Caesar" at the Mercury Theatre. Not much regarding this particular part of Welles' life is in still in existence, mainly because Welles was an extremely private person and did not allow film or pictures to be shot or taken while he was working. The production crew did an excellent job of recreating the theater, from the few photographs and sketches which still exist. The crew used the Gaiety Theatre on the Isle of Man for the main stage and tweaked the look of the theater to match that of the Mercury. Filming took place on the Isle of Man, London and New York.

The movie is cast relatively well. Claire Danes is believable as the opportunistic Sonja Jones, and Zac Efron is a decent fit for the role of Richard Samuels, though his teen-heartthrob status does make it hard to imagine him as a naïve actor looking for his big break. However, Christian McKay's portrayal of Orson Welles is the most believable. He captures Welles' personality and demeanor, and it doesn't hurt that he has more than a slight resemblance to the enigmatic director. McKay mastered Welles voice, gigantic ego and his lust for women, food and fame. Combine all of that with McKay's experience of having portrayed Welles previously in a one-man show, and this makes for as perfect a casting decision as one can hope for.

This movie accurately portrays the goings-on behind the scenes. Anyone who has either studied stage and film or worked on a stage or film set will attest that the backstage antics are often even more outrageous than the play or film itself. Affairs, blackmail and intrigue are staples of both the industries, and "Me and Orson Welles" does an excellent job of portraying all of these actions. The film also does a good job of detailing what it was like to work with Welles, who many have noted was rather difficult to work with.

Another interesting aspect of the movie is how it portrays Orson Welles before he becomes the Orson Welles with whom most are familiar. At the time of stage production, Welles is only 22 years old. He has yet to create the radio stunt "War of the Worlds," which sent people running and screaming into the streets, or the movie that is still considered by many to be one of the greatest ever made, "Citizen Kane." This movie portrays Welles as the rising, ambitious star he was at the time. But the movie also provides some foreshadowing into how Welles' personal life would ultimately change for the worse.

"Me and Orson Welles" is a movie for movie buffs and students of the industry, but even a moviegoer who doesn't fall into either of the aforementioned categories can enjoy the film. It is a piece of cinematic history brought to life in the form of a coming-of-age film. If you have the opportunity to see the film, see it.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars