Sunday, January 10, 2010
Me and Orson Welles (and Nog)
Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles traces the few days leading up to the Mercury Theater's 1937 opening of Julius Caesar, under the direction/dictatorship of the young Orson Welles. Christian McKay's take on Welles is wonderful fun to watch, fully deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nod. McKay's Welles, despite his egocentricity, is also capable of being a great leader, somewhat akin to a military commander. In fact, he seems to see theater as a battle, where the audiences are "sons of bitches" (a favorite term of his) who must be made to pay attention and where the productions must be "lean and mean," shorn of all unecessary extravagance (he brags of his radio production of Hamlet, in which he cut the "To be or not to be" soliloquy because it didn't tell audiences anything they didn't already know). McKay is such a commanding presence here that the rest of this (arguably somewhat slight) film tends to evaporate around him. Essentially its the well-worn underdog formula, similar to a sports film only here it's a scrappy theater group overcoming the odds to achieve a wildly succesful opening night. One can easily enough imagine a mainstream audience being quite entertained by the film without any real knowledge of Welles whatsoever. And a few younger viewers had indeed wandered down to the arthouse to check it out, no doubt lured by the presence of "tween-dream" Zac Efron who is, in fact, the film's lead. He neither ruins nor enhances things much, but he does come off as a bit dull, though almost anyone would, I suppose, when crossing paths with Welles.