Monday, July 01, 2013

Me and Orson Welles

Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, Me and Orson Welles is the story of a 17-year old kid who meets Orson Welles who is about to stage his production of Julius Caesar. Directed by Richard Linklater and written by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr., the film is an exploration into a young man discovering the world of theater and dealing with the big personality that is Orson Welles who is played by Christian McKay. Also starring Zac Efron, Claire Danes, and Ben Chaplin. Me and Orson Welles is an extraordinary film from Richard Linklater.

The film is about a 17-year old high school student who goes to New York City based on his interests in the arts where unexpectedly runs into Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater company who are doing a modern-day play of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The boy gets a small part as he also falls for a production assistant as he finds himself in the intense world of theatrical rehearsals as well as the massive personality of Welles. Notably as there’s egos involved as well as deadlines as it’s all seen by this kid who has to deal with all of that as well as doing whatever it takes to not upset Welles is a giant that can squash him.

The screenplay plays into a week in the life of Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) who is fascinated by the world of art and theater as he’s also a fan of Welles’ work in plays and radio. While Richard has aspirations to be part of it, he finds himself in that world by accident all because he wowed Welles with his charm and the ability to do a drum roll properly. The script showcases all the ins and outs of what happens in a play rehearsal where things can go wrong and there’s a lot of pressure out there. Yet, no one is as more intense than Welles as he’s a man who is a perfectionist and is hoping that everyone does their part right including the musicians in the background and the technical crew. Though Richard is aware of Welles’ personality, he has no idea how dangerous it can be to the point that Welles is also a man who sleeps with various women including the production assistant Sonja Jones (Claire Danes) whom Richard falls for.

Richard Linklater’s direction is quite engaging for the way he presents the world of theater in all of its moments on and off the stage where everyone is making sure nothing goes wrong. Notably as Welles is waiting for something bad to happen just to ensure that he can overcome that obstacle. Shot in Pinewood Studios in Britain with some locations in New York City, the film does play to a moment in time where America is coming out of the Great Depression and people are looking for art to find an escape from troubled times. Yet, there’s also moments that plays into Welles’ life such as a scene in an ambulance where Welles talks about The Magnificent Ambersons to Richard as a book as he hopes to make it something more in the future.

The direction has Linklater create some amazing compositions to showcase that world of late 1930s New York City that is very vibrant and colorful while maintaining that air of intimacy in the theater. The film’s climax comes in the performance of Julius Caesar where it is presented with such bravado and poignancy as it also shows how far Richard has come from this boy who knew very little into finally understanding his role as Lucius in the play. The film does play into that theme of someone coming-of-age in Richard as he goes into a major growth from boy to man while having a fuller understanding of what it means to be an artist. Overall, Linklater crafts a very dazzling yet captivating film about art and growth.

Cinematographer Dick Pope does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful yet lush cinematography from the scenes set in the exteriors in day and night to the more extravagant use of lights for the film‘s climatic play scene. Editor Sandra Adair does wonderful work with the editing to create some rhythmic cuts to capture the intensity of the stage performances as well as some lighter moments in the scenes outside of the theater. Production designer Laurence Dorman, with set decorator Richard Roberts and supervising art director Bill Crutcher, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of many of the sets in the city including a museum that Richard goes to as well as the stage setting for the climatic play.

Costume designer Nic Ede does excellent work with the costumes from the dresses the women wear to the suits and uniforms the men wear for the play. Visual effects supervisor Robert Duncan does terrific work with the minimal set dressing for many of the exteriors of 1937 New York City without embellishing things way too much. Sound editor Ian Wilson does superb work with the sound to capture the level of noise that happens throughout the rehearsals and the things that happens on and off the stage. The film’s music by Michael J. McEvoy is a delight as it plays to the upbeat jazz music of the late 1930s as music supervisor Marc Marot also uses music of that time including some notable standards.

The casting by Lucy Bevan is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable appearances from Saskia Reeves as voice actress Barbara Luddy, Imogen Poots as a radio broadcast assistant, Al Weaver as an unappreciated set designer named Sam, and Zoe Kazan as an aspiring writer named Gretta that Richard meets early in the film and later befriends her. Other memorable yet fantastic supporting roles include Kelly Reilly as the lead actress Muriel Brasser, James Tupper as the very generous Joseph Cotten, Leo Bill as the mischievous Norman Lloyd, Eddie Marsan as the very anxious stage manager John Houseman, and Ben Chaplin in a terrific performance as the very dramatic stage actor George Coulouris.

Claire Danes is wonderful as production assistant Sonja Jones as a woman who is driven by her career as she hopes to work for David O. Selznick while intrigued by the ambition of Richard whom she seduces. Christian McKay is phenomenal as Orson Welles as a man who is full of bravado and ambition as well as an intensity where McKay is able to bring Welles back to life. Finally, there’s Zac Efron in a marvelous performance as Richard Samuel as a 17-year old high school student who is fascinated by the world of theater and art as he becomes part of that world while knowing what he must do when dealing with someone like Welles as Efron is able to stand on his own and bring depth to his character.

Me and Orson Welles is a remarkable film from Richard Linklater that features superb performances from Zac Efron and Christian McKay. The film is definitely a very intriguing look into the world of theater as well as Orson Welles’ time as a playwright. It’s also a coming-of-age film that works in the way explores a young man discovering that world as he also learns what it means to be an actor. In the end, Me and Orson Welles is a riveting film from Richard Linklater.

Richard Linklater Films: It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books - Slacker - Dazed & Confused - Before Sunrise - subUrbia - The Newton Boys - Waking Life - Tape - School of Rock - Before sunset - Bad News Bears (2005 film) - A Scanner Darkly - Fast Food Nation - Bernie (2011 film) - Before Midnight - Boyhood - Everybody Want Some!! - The Auteurs #57: Richard Linklater Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

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