Massawyrm tells the tale of he, ME AND ORSON WELLES
Published at: Nov. 25, 2009, 9:30 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
If there’s any film that best represents the current state of chaos in the industry right now it is ME AND ORSON WELLES. A festival favorite for the last year, this has long been considered a sure thing pick-up that just never found a studio to actually pick it up. People love it, it’s got a big up-and-coming star in a film that will have wide appeal as well as prove to be critic friendly. But everyone mysteriously passed on it, a sad sign of the state of indie acquisitions, leaving the film to self-distribute. Which is something of a small tragedy considering how good a film it really is.
ME AND ORSON WELLES is the latest offering from local Austin workhorse Richard Linklater and his first major work since his brilliant A SCANNER DARKLY. I’m exactly 50/50 on Linklater’s films, loving a full half of them and strongly disliking the others. And oddly enough it isn’t along indie/mainstream lines. I’m equally mixed on both his personal stuff and his studio work. This is one of his rare films in which he managed to make a film with mainstream appeal as one of his personal indies – and it really is quite good.
The film stars Zac Efron as the “ME” in the title, a fictional character named Richard Samuels who at the tender age of 17 gets a small role in the Mercury Theater production of CAESER, Orson Welles infamous/immortal 100 minute modern dress version of Shakespeare’s classic JULIUS CAESER. But make no mistake, while the film centers around the coming of age antics of Efron’s Samuels, he is not the center of the film. He is an intriguing tool through which Linklater gets to tell a story about Orson Welles.
ME AND ORSON WELLES is, at its heart, a film giving us an honest outside-looking-in view of Welles without having to deal with the issues of making him the main character. Rather than having to adhere to the general Biopic formula, we get to see Welles in his environment, both at his most likable and most detestable, in an unvarnished look at his genius and megalomania. Being able to see him through the likable eyes of a kid he gives his big break to, while also seeing him dick our protagonist around a bit, allows us to have someone likable to cling to without them having to soften Orson in the slightest.
Efron is fantastic here and is doing a great job slowly breaking away from his HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL roots. Every outing he’s had since his Disney days has allowed him to prove himself more and more and he appears to be only a dark role or two away from finally departing from his pretty boy image the same way Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp broke away from theirs. While I’m not entirely convinced that he’s playing on their level, I see a very similar glimmer in him that we saw from Depp in his 21 JUMPSTREET days and Pitt in his pre-12 MONKEYS, COOL WORLD/THE FAVOR/LEGENDS OF THE FALL era. He’s incredibly likable and nails the emotional peaks that Samuels endures at the hands of a raving egomaniac like Welles.
And of course the big story is Christian McKay, the relative newcomer who knocks his performance of Welles right out of the park. Welles is tricky. In this day and age his voice is best known as the basis for the inspiration of The Brain in PINKY & THE BRAIN and has long since joined the ranks of the likes of Cagney, Wayne, Nixon and Presley in the realm of accepted impressions that don’t actually sound like their subject. But McKay nails it and transcends simple imitation finding his way into the realm of immersion. His Welles is fascinating, a marvelous, charismatic, arrogant son of a bitch who you can’t take your eyes off of. Watching McKay do Welles doing Brutus is a special treat all its own that makes for a late movie snack capping off his performance perfectly.
Linklater constructs a wonderful tale here, bringing to bear all the things he does best. It is a sweet, coming of age period piece that tangles with the messiness of relationships while juggling a bevy of likable small characters each given just enough time to be interesting. While not compelling enough material to be among his very best films, this rests very easily in the higher end of his filmography. A solid, highly enjoyable film, it is one of those rare indies that I’m going to beseech you to seek out and see at the theater. Self-distributing this thing can’t be easy, and of all the things opening against it this holiday weekend, this is (along with THE ROAD) one of the best. It is certainly the more accessible of the two.
A delightful venture, ME AND ORSON WELLES is tailor made for film history buffs, theater fans or anyone who enjoys period dramas. Light, fun and a real treat, this opens in limited release this Thanksgiving.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.