Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Movie with Abe: Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles
Directed by Richard Linklater
Released November 25, 2009

Any actor who had the opportunity to work with legendary director Orson Welles would surely want to tell the tale of his extraordinarily interesting experience. The film’s title is important – since the protagonist is defined only as “me” rather than by his name, it’s implied that he is utterly insignificant when compared with the great Welles. In truth, that’s how he’s treated by the egotistical director, who hurls nicknames like Junior at him but refuses to call him by his real name, Richard. The trouble with this aggrandizement of Welles is that all of the other characters are almost completely ignored, and any part of the film that isn’t Welles suffers.

“Me and Orson Welles” treats the maniacal director the same way he treats everyone else. He believes he’s infinitely more capable than all those around him and that he is always right and always knows what’s best. He believes himself to be superior, and so does the film. As a result, he’s the only one with any depth or character development throughout the film. Well-costumed characters come and go, but Welles is in focus the entire time. British breakout Christian McKay is revelatory in his portrayal of Welles, and he, without question, blows the rest of the cast out of the water. Like his character, McKay has seemingly learned all his lines and everyone else’s, and could easily play every person’s role in the whole house without batting an eye and still do a superior job.

Next to McKay, everyone else seems like they’ve just come in off the street and stumbled upon the theater, just as aspiring actor Richard has in the film. That’s not merely another way to heap praise upon McKay, but rather an emphasis on how poor the rest of the cast is. They all take the experience out of the past by refusing to adhere to the manner of speaking in the 1930s, and nothing about their performances indicates practice or polish, which is even more jarring when they share scenes with the theatrical McKay. Claire Danes and James Tupper (“Mercy”) are especially grating and unimpressive, while Zac Efron, who plays Richard, thinks a bit too much of himself and doesn’t seem ready for this kind of serious part. It’s a true disappointment considering the way Efron gelled in a supporting role in “Hairspray” and could easily have mimicked that performance to great effect here, but for some reason chose to echo the meager example of Danes and Tupper rather than the great McKay.

It’s often said that one actor can make a movie, and that’s certainly true, like with this fall’s “An Education.” The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t automatically make the movie good. That’s crucially true here, since everything about the movie feels unpolished and mediocre, save for McKay. That’s hardly the actor’s fault, since he put an immense effort into his performance and nothing else about the film, except for the costumes, is remotely impressive. It’s not a well-made film by any means, and would probably be much stronger if the title did away with the “me” part.


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