Richard Linklater has had a varied resume over the years, and it’s a pity that this film has failed dismally in the United States, despite featuring teen heartthrob Zac Ephron (especially considering Robert Pattinson’s straight to DVD catalogue has been given a new lease on life recently).
Richard Samuels hasn’t even left high school and he dreams of making it big in the theatre world. The combination of being in the right place at the right time and a damn cocky audition leads him to secure a role in Orson Welles’ upcoming production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in the Mercury Theatre.
This has got to be one of the best films about the theatre that I’ve ever seen. The week leading up to opening night is fantastic, coloured with the motley collection of thespians and all their idiosyncrasies. Anyone who’s ever been on stage will recognise everything here. Ben Chaplin puts in a fine performance as George Coulouris, and he (Chaplin, I mean) is an actor that’s been chronically overlooked for years now, rarely getting the lead role in the big movies. Kelly Reilly is another welcome addition, whom I hadn’t seen since 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, whilst Zoe Kazan very nearly steals the show as the geeky and radiant Greta, with whom Richard has a chance encounter.
Christian McKay is truly wondrous as Welles. Here is a figure who is so determined, so pompous and so full of himself that he knows just when not to let people know how determined, pompous and full of himself he is. He’s a scheming manipulator, and it’s clear that his downfall will come some years after the setting of this film. (Well, I consider Transformers: The Movie to be a downfall; don’t you?) At the same time as raising one’s ire, you can’t help but admire Welles’ charismatic nature. It’s easy to see how, in many ways, this man regularly achieved the impossible.
Zac Ephron is great as the innocent, fresh-faced Richard who’s new to the cutthroat world of the theatre. He has Welles’ confidence, and perhaps that’s what draws Welles to him in the first place, but as the film plays out, we realise that you need more than simply confidence to gravitate within the inner circle. You need humility and the willingness to be obedient, no matter what the costs. Claire Danes is great as the girl who understands exactly how Welles’ world works, and I really wish she’d up her film appearances – it always seems to be a long time between drinks.
Linklater’s film is beautiful to look at. Sure, everything’s a bit too clean – that old movie lie that all cars in the 30s drove around really slowly and were in perfect condition pops its head up too – but it matches the romanticism Richard imbues upon the theatrical world. It’s glamorous and ritzy and everyone’s a little too perfect.
Me and Orson Welles is a fantastic (and fantastically overlooked) feature that only falters in the last few moments. Highly recommended.Rating: