Sunday, 13 December 2009

Review: Me and Orson Welles

Year: 2008 (2009 U.K Release)
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr
Starring: Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin, James Tupper

Synopsis is here

Like the theater it talks about, what makes Me and Orson Welles tick is it's cast. Linklater for me has always had an eye for story in the films of his that I've seen, but here he's had troupe of actors who fit into there roles so snug (bar one person but more on that later) that you would believe they're been rehearsing these roles on stage for years before hand. It's not just that everyone has a role to play here, it's the fact that they've been so correctly chosen, that Linklater has no need to worry while bringing about this wonderfully heady coming of age drama which just so happens to feature one of the most dominant influences (if not the MOST dominant) on what we consider modern cinema. Hyperbole? A little, but ask anyone when it comes to film, Welles was the Elvis and we all know what the great John Lennon said about him.*

In this film Welles is played with a explosive combination of fire and charm by Christian McKay. An English actor, McKay's portrayal of the titular Welles not only dominates the screen but is one of the strong imitations of the Man to grace the screen. No matter what your eyes gravitate towards him and whether it's bombastically proclaiming how important he is, or seductively whispering how vital his cast is, Welles' persuasion always wins out right. McKay performance within the film is just as domineering as Welles' presence in real life and is eerily accurate. It's a display that almost knocks everyone out of screen...almost.

Efron, just as likely picked for his box office draw as well as his ability to sing and dance at first struggles with the material and comes off a little stiff, especially when he comes up against more seasoned performers such as Claire Danes (in crafty performance that balances cute affection with blind ambition). However, Efron exhibits a huge amount of screen presence and charm in a role that is more dramatic than many are used to from him. In a film which could have easily lost it's straight man to a multitude of great turns (Chaplin's George Coulouris and Tupper's on the money reincarnation of Joe Cotton are stand outs) Efron holds his own exceedingly well.

For a film about strong personalities being governed and controlled by an even greater presence, Linklater keeps his direction low-key and the pace and tone of the movie breezy. I usually don't go for movies which fall into this period, or about theatre but by the end of the movie, Linklater's easy on the eye visuals and subtle telling of the story (just let the acting flourish maybe?) had me hooked.

The film isn't perfect. Unfortunately I've seen far too many coming of age stories in my short life and this own does nothing fresh with it's well worn narrative to distract me from the fact that I know whats coming next. But in all honestly with a a group of performances as tight as the ones on show, it doesn't really matter.

I also loved the films eye for detail and it's witty moments of foreshadowing. It's hard not to let a smile creep up on your face at points, such as when Welles talks about a certain book based on his father, or the telling line "what do I do to top this!?" after the opening performances standing grand opening. It's not only the performance of Welles that is good but the knowledge about him that helps makes the film so enjoyable for me.

At a time where people are turning their heads towards James Cameron's mega picture, those who are looking for something else could do worse than pick up a ticket for this. Linklater's film reminds us that although effects can be fun, there's still nothing that can hit home as well as a good cast.