“Me and Orson Welles” while filled with great leading actors, such as Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes and Ben Chaplin, it fails to bring anything new or innovative to the drama surrounding the famous Orson Welles. Theatre and film students alike would be drawn to a film that plays on the dynamics of theater acting troupes, celebrity, and the ever-famous Orson Welles. For those who don’t know, Orson Welles was a famous film and theatre director, actor, screenwriter and producer. He worked with mediums from film to radio and theatre to television. Some of his most well-known performances include “Macbeth” and the films “Citizen Kane” and “Touch of Evil.” Released on DVD this past Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011 the film is accessible on Netflix Instant Watch for streaming.
Set in New York circa 1937, young Richard Samuels (Efron) meets Orson Welles (McKay) a week before his production of “Julius Caesar” is set for performance at Broadway’s first Shakespearean production, at the Mercury Theater. With grace and charm reminiscent of “High School Musical,” Efron’s character charms his way into the role of Lucius in the production. Swept away in the fantasy and whimsy of Welles’ life, Richard meets the beautiful Sonja, (Claire Danes, “The Family Stone”) an ambitious production assistant. The two begin a flirtatious relationship behind the scenes of the production all the while Welles can’t help but feel that he needs some bad luck before the show.
The film was made with $25 million and in the world of independent filmmaking that tips towards the higher bracket of budgets. Even with the budget to recreate a historically accurate New York City and accurate costuming, the budget can’t create the spark that is clearly missing in the film. Richard as a character lacks tension; it is hard to know what the character wants. Efron as an actor never entirely fits the persona of the 17-year-old protagonist; While Richard might want the Sonja as a lover, which really isn’t the focus of the film. Orson Welles comes off as ambitious, irrational, frustrating, and slightly dangerous, but ultimately a creative genius. The audience, including Richard, can’t help but be swept away by the man’s views and imaginations. As a person though, Welles is nothing more than a greedy child, having affairs with multiple women during the production while his wife stays at home, pregnant.
Gretta Adler (Zoe Kazan) manages to steal small scenes as the young struggling playwright who Richard meets while visiting a museum. Her quirky attitude makes her a grounding point for Richard as he finds himself further and further lost in the crazy twisted world that belongs to Orson Welles.
The film originally premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Films that screen at festivals aim to pick up financers and distributors for both foreign and domestic box office. The film hoped to attract buyers with Efron’s heartthrob status, but the film failed to attract distributors. The same happened at 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. If the film failed to pick up distributors at three major film festivals this should have been a better indication to the teams that not all was well with this period piece.