Skip to content
January 26, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Me and Orson Welles

Published 22/11/10 at

Ah, Zac Efron. I can’t help but be biased against you, given that you made your name in the tween obsession that is High School Musical. It’s quite difficult to forgive you for that. But you’ve gone some way to appeasing your filmography with Me and Orson Welles, where you have associated with people who have been well cast, particularly Christian McKay, who is the master of being the master, the arrogant but brilliant Orson Welles.

It’s the standard coming-of-age story with a twist, as usual; Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a young kid who falls into a bit-part role in one of Welles’ most famous plays, his Julius Caesar of 1937, at the Mercury Theatre. The arena is fairly pitiful and there is little money for elaborate scenes and costumes, but it is the play that speaks for itself. For the first time ever, Julius Caesar is relived in a Nazi-style setting, a threat all-too-prevalent in pre-World-War-II New York.

The most interesting element of Welles’ Julius Caesar, aside from the play itself, is its construction—and disastrous final days of preparation—before its lauded opening. While I know little more of Welles’ aside from his definite eccentricity, Christian McKay seems to nail the idea of Welles perfectly; he blends the perfect amount of arrogance with anger-melting charm, and he can be atypically cruel and spiteful, bending to the unstoppable force of his own ego, before capitulating so suddenly that the audience is never aware whether he is being calculating or purely naive. Just like Richard, we are drawn into the web of his charisma, and his cast members also suffer from the same delusional state.

Fortunately for them, most of the characters around Welles are perfectly aware of his persuasive powers, and none more so than Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), one of Welles’ disciples, who is at once both blinded by the playwright’s genius and grounded enough to know what she must sacrifice to stay within his sphere. With all the men in the play invariably chasing after her, Richard follows suit and it’s here you can pretty much write the rest of this section of the movie for yourself. The director Richard Linklater does tend to fall into whimsy a little too often; the ending is particularly honey-soaked, even with all its good intentions. It doesn’t help that Zac Efron is also the driving force behind the narrative; with his virginal good looks and innocent charm, this film can sometimes come across as more of a teen comedy-drama more than a light-hearted account of an encounter with the infamous Mr. Welles.

But if you can forgive a little saccharine, you’ll probably enjoy the predictable rollercoaster of this ride. It’s questionable whether this would have been a memorable movie without McKay in what is arguably the most important role; had Welles been portrayed as too arrogant, too weak or simply foolish, every other character in the movie would have been even more dim-witted for falling for an act the audience can see through. But hopefully you’ll understand the magic of Welles’ dangerous appeal just as much as I did.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: