Movie Review: Me and Orson Welles- A Delightful yet Flawed Tale of Ambition and the Struggle of Creating Art

Director Richard Linklater can be defined as one of the most versatile directors of the last decade. Never getting pressured into one style of filmmaking Linklater is able to balance his strengths with artistic experiments such as his debut film Slacker to the more audience friendly narrative endeavors such as School of Rock. Looking throughout his career from Dazed and Confused to A Scanner Darkly one can’t help but notice Linklater’s ability to transcend genre, period, and style to present a story he feels dedicated to present. In his new film Me and Orson Welles Linklater is able to capture a period of time and a young man in his moment aiming at his true and ambiguous ambitions but fails to provide a film without its deviation faults. At the heart of this on screen tale is the wonderful and riveting portrayal of the ambitious and arrogant Orson Welles by actor Christopher McKay, who dominates every scene with vigor as he embraces the essence of Welles not even coming close to broaching on caricature. This interesting story about a dreamer getting handpicked by Orson Welles for the on stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar works as a study of ambition and a struggle to create art but falls short when it deviates to the more romantic side. Zac Efron, who defiantly proves most of his critics wrong as being a looker and not an actor, plays this affectionate idealist that is caught in the moment living his dream and is able to carry the scenes in the weaker moments with charm and grace. While Me and Orson Welles isn’t Linklater’s best work it remains to be seen that this director can’t get the proper mood or tone for his stylistic choices which are still effective in this above average depiction of those caught in the arrogant wake that was Orson Welles.

It shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise that Orson Welles demanded perfection and those who got in his way of perfecting his vision would be eliminated and the story here is no different. As the story begins on our young protagonist Richard Samuels, who travels to New York to escape the trivial education he believes is wasting away his years, the audience sees a boy who is cultured in music and theater rather than math and science, a boy urging to create and begin a new life. While he is exploring the various culture spots of New York he comes across the Mercury Theatre where there is a gathering of actors and other sorts. Showing off his talents at the drums when provoked he catches the eye of the young Orson Welles who is taken by the young boy’s confidence and bravado immediately casting the Richard on the spot without a proper audition. As the film moves along we are exposed to a familiar yet different Welles than previously ventured in other films. This Welles is quite powerful and demeaning yet there is a charm and understanding that only a few might have known in some of his more exposed states. However, that Welles doesn’t allow himself to be exposed for very long and commands his stage as though he is dictator and controls his actors as mere tools of his creation. Any opposition, either from an art director wanting credit for his work to Richard standing up for his dignity, is crushed on the spot without any hope of surfacing again. Richard dabbles in two romantic relationships, one with an aspiring young writer who seems perfect for Richard’s time and place while the other is a woman, played by the subtle but effective Claire Danes, who seems to value her own ambitions over any possibility of genuine connection. The outcome of this particular relationship can be seen a mile away and is not handled in the most effective or nuanced way. However, the acting and technical work of the film brings the more finessed message of the film to light and explores it with an entertaining delivery.

This seemingly light tale does indeed have something a bit more to offer than a young idealist living his dream. The film showcases the brilliance of a man who was guided by artistic instinct yet alienated by pride and arrogance from his fellow company. Orson Welles was indeed an exceptionally brilliant man and the film demonstrates that as his fame spread the need for a persona was more important than the need to be true to one’s real self. But this is linked to the true fault of the film because the most engaging part about it is the portrayal and study of Orson Welles as the developing artist. When the film begins to trace the love interests of this equally arrogant boy Richard the film isn’t able to make up for the loss of energy when Christopher McKay isn’t on the screen. Efron delivers a good performance showing everyone that he can act but doesn’t really engage the audience in nearly the same amount of enthusiasm and vigor as McKay is able to deliver. Their relationship does get a tad interesting, balancing the idea of a protégé with the confident reflection of Orson himself but loses the steam when they attempt the romance angle with Claire Danes.

Unfortunate as this side track is the film doesn’t fall short from its intended goal. It remains a solid film one that is gracefully carried by one powerful performance but allows for the other more than adequate cast members to have their own moments. It’s an interesting look at the creation of a play especially in the presence of true artistic vision and the difficulties of preserving and carrying out that vision. Using Orson Welles as the epitome of artistry and Richard as the confident yet disillusioned boy caught in the merciless tide of Welle’s world of fame makes for an interesting visual tale and is depicted with finesse by director Richard Linklater. Even with the script’s weak elements Linklater is able to engage your senses with clear and interesting visuals and entertain you with exquisite performances. Me and Orson Welles might be the film for an actor to study but it definitely stands as a great continuation of Linklater’s diverse range while portraying an Orson Welles that is vaguely familiar yet new in presentation.

Depicting another period of time can be difficult but a confident and experienced director such as Richard Linklater is able to easily make the late 30s seem genuine in appearance and feeling in Me and Orson Welles. This film contains great acting, a decent story with minor faults, and an acceptable pace as well as great camera visuals that are all hinged on the exceptional performance from Christopher McKay as the iconic Orson Welles. The supporting cast, including notable performances from Ben Chaplin and Imogen Poots, makes the film lively and enjoyable while aiding the step by step process of revealing the arrogance and pride that is the real Orson Welles. With a vast amount of films with dauntingly serious subject matter Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles makes for some light hearted entertainment while remaining an all around good film that is respectable in its own right.

Grade: B

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