“Me And Orson Welles”
This is a little Depression-era period piece that has some surprising
charm, especially considering the huge questions surrounding its release.
The first question is, “Can Zac Efron really act?”
The former teenage heartthrob and star of the “High School Musical”
series takes on a dramatic role, and does quite well with it.
He plays Richard Samuels, a still-in-high-school young man who dreams
of Broadway. He happens to get an
opportunity through a chance encounter with Orson Welles in front of The
Mercury Theater, where Mr. Welles was planning to open his “modern”
production of Julius Caesar: yes,
the Shakespeare play in a Fascist context (it’s 1937, and they were still
making fun of the comically ranting upstart demagogue named Adolph Hitler).
Yes, Mr. Efron sings a little, but sort of as a throw-in, while
strumming a couple of chords on a ukulele.
The second question is, “Who is Christian McKay?”
The British newcomer to Hollywood plays the pivotal part of Orson
Welles, the larger-than-life man-about-town who is a force of nature, bullying
his underlings, charming the press, improvising on his radio show, seducing
the pretty young women (getting very angry whenever anybody mentions his
pregnant wife at home), and here, cajoling his theater crew to work through
all the obstacles of staging this impractical performance, the biggest
obstacle being that they’re always waiting for Mr. Welles to show up.
Nothing can happen without his fiery ignition of the creative engine,
and once he gets rolling, he can’t be contradicted or interrupted.
But somehow Mr. McKay plays this egotistical, bombastic manipulator in
such a way that we don’t hate him. It’s
about recognizing genius when we see it, and making allowances for it.
Richard falls for Sonja (Claire Danes), who shows the kid the ropes, in
more ways than one, but while he’s consumed with his schoolboy crush,
she’s already moved on---she’ll literally do anything to be able to meet
the right people. Richard is so
upset that Sonja so cavalierly switches her dalliance to Mr. Welles, whom she
hopes will introduce her to Mr. Selznek, who’s directing “Gone With The
Wind,” that Richard unadvisedly confronts Mr. Welles, who summarily
dismisses him, but not before a roaringly successful opening night.
The third question is, “Is it possible to do a movie about a play?”
Well, yes and no. It’s
difficult for viewers to continue to suspend disbelief when the actors on the
screen are acting like they are acting. But
those who love the pulse and energy of live theater will find many points of
identification, even though it’s 1937.
Some things never change: props
gone missing, actors wrangling about blocking, directors schmoozing reluctant
stars, dropped lines, caustic carping, and everybody’s utter dependence on
the enthusiastic approbation of a one-time collection of anonymous strangers.
“Me And Orson Welles” does a credible job of creating the
atmosphere of Broadway in the late 1930’s, and we feel like we’re there,
with a young, earnest Richard, at a chance encounter that turns into a magical
opportunity, making memories that will last a lifetime.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace