Monday, March 4, 2013

Me and Orson Welles (2008)

Director: Richard Linklater                             Writer: Holly Gent Palmo
Film Score: Michael J. McEvoy                     Cinematography: Dick Pope
Starring: Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Zac Efron and Zoe Kazan

Though it is a fascinating concept and certainly an entertaining film, Me and Orson Welles suffers from its TV-movie acting and production values. It’s too bad, because the film itself is captivating, despite its deficiencies. The fictional account of a teenager who finds himself swept up into Orson Welles 1937 Broadway production of Julius Caesar had a lot of potential but winds up being only a marginal success. The biggest issue, of course, is the acting itself. Zac Efron, the titular star of the film, has primarily done TV work and it shows. Even though he has moved on to films in recent years, they are of the teen variety and have little to distinguish them from his TV work. He does as well as he can, with the limited talent that he possesses, but it’s not enough to carry a feature film.

The biggest name in the picture is Claire Danes, and her role suffers from a severe lack of direction. While the other characters call her “the ice queen,” that’s not the way her character behaves. Had she been more brooding and introspective it would have made much more sense in the context of the picture and given her much more to do as an actress. Of course, the real draw here is Christian McKay’s work as Orson Welles. His first feature film role, it’s a major accomplishment to take on such an iconic figure as Welles. But he does a nice job. While he’s not always convincing, the voice is spot on, and at times he’s transcendent making us forget for a few moments that we’re not watching the real boy wonder.

The other aspect of the film that is lacking is the production values. The production design is incredibly good, period costumes, cars, and sets are impeccably done. What’s missing, however, is the kind of image manipulation that has become common the past decade, where a sepia or black-and-white tone adjustment has been made to give historic films a look that immerses us more fully into the time period. The vivid colors, while in actuality more realistic, ironically look more artificial to the eye and gives it the look of a TV movie. This is no doubt due to the small budget of the film and in no way is a knock, but it does diminish the overall impact of the film. The film score is also problematic, relying far to heavily on swing tunes of the period, and slighting the romantic orchestral music associated with the films of that time.

So it’s hard to know where to come down in assessing the film as a whole. Most films require a suspension of disbelief to really enjoy them. This film requires a tremendous amount of suspension of Zac Efron. Half the time you’re watching this incredible recreation of 1937 and Orson Welles’ production of Julius Caesar, and the other half you’re watching an ABC Afterschool Special. In the end, Me and Orson Welles is certainly worth watching. Just be warned. The parts that are good are very, very good. And the parts that are bad are, well . . .

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