Review: Me and Orson Welles

The career of cult director Richard Linklater has been a varied and often wonderful thing to behold. From the high school comedy of Dazed and Confused to the Parisian romance of Before Sunset and the animated science fiction of A Scanner Darkly, Linklater has scuttled from genre to genre with ease. Now he takes a detour back to 1930s New York to tell the tale of Orson Welles’ famed Broadway revival of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  It’s an at times ambitious, but frustratingly limited, film that gets by on the energy of its cast.

Zac Efron (High School Musical) stars a regular everyday High School student named Richard Samuels who happens by chance upon a small role in a play by Orson Welles (Christian McKay) on a trip to New York City. At the time Welles was a young prodigious talent who, as audiences surely know, would soon go on to create some of the greatest cinema ever made. The last piece of the tale revolves around Samuels’ affection for production assistant and wannabe actress Sonja (Clare Danes, Romeo + Juliet) who is having an affair with Welles and is desperate to audition for Gone with the Wind.

Linklater’s ambition is clear, but his reach is noticeably small. Recreating the New York City of 1937 is a hard ask on a small budget and Linklater and his crew, which includes Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Dick Pope, have tried their hardest, but they can’t disguise the fact that most of Me and Orson Welles is set on a stage and that audiences rarely get to experience the vibrant setting and that we don’t get the full impact of Welles’ achievement.

It’s good to see Efron expand out of his teen-friendly comfort zone here and he may have a full on career in the making, but it’s disappointing to see Danes relegated to such a lifeless point on a love triangle. The supporting cast is filled with interesting actors such as Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated), Ben Chaplin (Birthday Girl), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes), Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later) and James Tupper (Men in Trees) as legendary actor Joseph Cotton, but the film belongs to British newcomer Christian McKay who does a spot on impersonation of Welles’ famous cocky demeanour and shaky temper. Welles ends the movie asking “How can ever I top this?” and I suspect there’s a more engaging and exciting movie to be made out of that, but for now Me and Orson Welles, whilst slight, should appeal to stage and screen buffs.

Me and Orson Welles is released 29 July.

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Clare Danes, Eddie Marsan, Zoe Kazan, James Tupper, Ben Chaplin, Kelly Reilly and Imogen Poots.

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About Glenn Dunks

Glenn Dunks loves films, that we know for sure. As well as being a film critic for Trespass Magazine where his wildly unpredictable tastes you’ve grown accustomed to, Glenn is the creator and writer of film blog Stale Popcorn (http://stalepopcornau.blogspot.com) , film editor at Onya Magazine, has written for The Big Issue and Encore and has been heard on JOY 94.3. Glenn is based in Melbourne, is an active Twitterer (@stalepopcornau) and is and is particular fond of Australian, horror and queer cinema.