In November 1937, high school student and aspiring thespian Richard Samuels takes a day trip into New York City. There, he meets and begins a casual friendship with Gretta Adler, their friendship based on a shared love and goal of a profession in the creative arts. But also on this trip, Richard stumbles across the Mercury Theatre and meets Orson Welles, who, based on an impromptu audition, offers Richard an acting job as Lucius in his modern retelling of Julius Caesar, which includes such stalwart Mercury Theatre players as Joseph Cotten and George Coulouris. Despite others with official roles as producer John Houseman, this production belongs to Welles, the unofficial/official dictator. In other words, whatever Welles wants, the cast and crew better deliver. These requests include everything, even those of a sexual nature. Welles does not believe in conventions and will do whatever he wants, which includes not having a fixed opening date, although the unofficial opening date is in ...Written by
As an American, married to an Englishman and resident in England, veteran dialect coach Judith Windsor was particularly attuned to the challenges inherent in the script. She said: "You have to remember that, at that time, American standard stage English was very English. Although, were we to hear Shakespeare as spoken in Shakespeare's time, it would sound more American than English!. "Of course, we have worked on the speaking of Shakespearean verse and the mode followed goes back to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London - it's mentioned in the text by George Coulouris that he learned to speak Shakespeare there with Elsie Fogerty. This tradition can be traced down to the Royal Shakespeare Company - it's a sort of energising of the last of the line, so that the imaginative experience for the actor comes, not between the lines or the words, but on the words and as a result of the scansion. It's a wonderful thing - it frees the actor to experience through the text and through the pentameter, things he would never have thought of. They speak with rapidity and clarity - I'm always delighted and constantly surprised at how skillful the British actors are. Orson Welles himself was in terms of accent a kind of hybrid. He sounded English to Americans and American to English people - we listened to a great many tapes of Welles speaking, some of which were of the original Mercury [Theatre] production and in those you can hear that he is sometimes very English in how he pronounces things." See more »
When Orson and Richard go to the dressing room to check on George Coulouris, as they turn the corner, Orson is in a suit. When we see them complete the turn in the next shot, Orson has on a black trench coat. See more »
By the year of 1592, Shakespeare was already an actor, and a playwright. Records of how his stage career began have not survived. We do know that in 1594 he joined a theater troupe. Called... anyone remember? Not everyone at once now. The Lord Chamberlain's Men.
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Gilson Lavis is listed as "Drumer" instead of "Drummer". See more »
Orson Welles is alive and well and residing in the body of British actor Christian McKay! McKay is simply stunning here as Welles - the look, the eye-brow, the mannerisms, the bounce, the voice - never have i seen Welles, as a character, better done. Many have tried few have succeeded (although i have a soft spot for Vincent D'Onofrio's Welles-cameo in Ed Wood.
The same can be said in general for Richard Linklater's film in terms of featuring Welles and using the whole "putting on a show" theatrical device. I didn't like Oliver Parker's Fade To Black with Danny Huston hamming Welles. RKO 281 was solid and Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock was a noble, if unsatisfyingly drear effort. Aided by McKay's towering achievement, a (mostly) superb supporting cast and a deft lightness Linklater has delivered his best film in years.
To my mind he can be hit (Dazed & Confused, Before Sunrise) and miss (A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation), but this is firmly in the hit category.
Other non-Welles films, such as Kenneth Branagh's In The Bleak Mid-Winter, have failed in their attempts to have fun at "putting on a show" format because they are too in love with moments that have that "you just had to be there" element. Christopher Guest made a go of it in Waiting For Guffman, but then he was mocking the pretensions so many others embrace as part of the scene. Somehow McKay's (as Welles) enormous personality and Linklater's breezy "makes it look so easy" style make you feel like you are there in Me & Orson Welles and it works to great effect - tantalising the viewer with moments and flashes of the play to come without giving it to you until the right time. The 'Me' of the title really becomes the viewer. You are swept along me both filmmaker and Orson (and it really does feel like Orson. After a few moments i never doubted the Linklater had somehow resurrected Welles and saddled him with Zac Efron!) And this brings me the film's one real problem (and surely a marketing nightmare for the distributors!) Now i'm no Efron hater, i haven't seen any of the HSM movies, but he was fine in both Hairspray and 17 Again but here he has to register in a fantastic ensemble of actors and he simply doesn't. Admittedly he is hamstrung a little by the role. Since the story and Linklater's direction make the viewer feel like 'Me' observing Welles as he creates his legendary production of Julius Caesar and the Mercury theatre company it is easy to kind of forget about Efron's Richard, or at least to dismiss him as Welles so often does. He just makes no impression at all. He's not bad he's just not really significant.
This leads to the inevitable problem that as we reach the films final act, once the play is done and Welles is off screen you feel like the movie is over. You've seen everything there is to see here, it is time to move along. But no, because Efron's story is unresolved so we get another 10 minutes of him and his ending. But you simply don't care. Once McKay/Welles had gone off with his supporting cast the movie was over, it just didn't know it! Amongst the supporting cast Claire Danes continues in display as easy charm, effortlessly likable and curiously beautiful in her quirky angular way. Zoe Kazan (last seen in Revolutionary Road) is a delight as the underused other woman in Efron's life (although if she'd been used more it would have meant more Efron, less Welles so maybe that's a blessing in disguise). James Tupper is excellent as Joseph Cotten, a great match for McKay's Welles. If they ever (God forbid) remake The Third Man they have the cast! Ben Chaplin is also marvellous as George Couloris. I'm constantly impressed by Chaplin and have no idea why he isn't a bigger name. Kelly Reilly doesn't have much to do but look gorgeous, which, naturally, she does with ease. Eddie Marsan seems miscast as John Houseman. I like Marsan but he didn't fit the bill for me here.
Ultimately this is McKay's show. He gives an electrifying performance at the center of a movie that while it is about Welles efforts to put on Julius Caesar is a charming, funny and swift-paced joy; but unfortunately it also has to make space for Zac Efron and his own storyline and there-in lie the flaws.
How you market this i don't know! I can't imagine Efron fans getting excited about a film set in the 1930s about the creation of an historic theatrical production staged by a man who's been dead for 25 years! And on the flipside i nearly didn't see it because i dismissed it, on first awareness, as a Zac Efron movie and so not for me. Only on a second invitation did i notice it was directed by Linklater (always interesting, if not always successful) which charged my want to see it.
Ultimately though if you want to see it because you're an Efron fan, well go see it because your guy's in it and because you'll get to see something a bit different from what you're used it. And maybe you'll like it. If you're not an Efron fan, never fear, you can all but forget he's there and just enjoy Linklater at his breezy best and the best performance of Welles on screen since the great man departed this earth (and took possession of McKay!)
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