Welles in the Spotlight
To show people from history who move with real energy and personality -- to show them coming truly to life -- is one of the great strengths of the cinematic form, and director Richard Linklater takes every advantage of it with Me and Orson Welles, featuring a wonderful performance by Christian McKay as Welles.
The time is 1937, as Welles and his troupe are readying to open the Mercury Theatre in New York with their production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The story is seen through the perspective of a teenager, Richard (Zac Efron), who lucks into getting cast as Lucius. As he learns about Welles, so do we -- his legend precedes him, but the presence of the very man himself serves to dwarf the legend. McKay plays him as larger-than-life, an outsized being who makes the world revolve around him wherever he goes. He's charming, inspiring, very intelligent and critical, but he's also pompous, arrogant, ill-tempered, and impulsive. Above all else, he is theatrical, as for him all the world's a stage and he's always in its spotlight. And he makes things happen. It's a marvelous portrayal, one that doesn't shy away from the man's less savory side (witness his rampant infidelity and lust for women), and yet manages to make him so charismatic that you, too, might want to stand in his shadow. It's enough to turn the film's main story -- primarily about Richard's coming-of-age and the lessons he learns about life and love via his interactions with a lovely production assistant (Claire Danes) and his relationship to Welles -- into the lesser attraction, but worth can be found there, too.
The "kid who learns about life by being thrust into the real world" comes across as a reliable story, and it fits with Linklater's own penchant for showing that life is meant to be experienced rather than read about in a classroom. And what better education would there have been than to find yourself orbiting, even temporarily, around Welles? Thanks to Linklater and McKay, we get a rendition of Welles that gives vital pulse to the man, the myth, the legend.
(Released by Freestyle Releasing and rated "PG-13" for sexual references and smoking.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.