Me and Orson Welles (UK-US, 2008)

Bigger than life

Another biopic (see Nowhere Boy from last week) and this film also avoids the genre’s pitfalls by focusing on moments before the protagonist was recognised as ‘great’. Me and Orson Welles goes further and makes the protagonist 17 year old Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) who gets to spend a week in the shadow of Welles. If we want to get auteurist we can consider it typical ‘coming of age’ Linklater as Samuels learns some harsh life lessons. However, the film is far more interesting on Welles’ extravagant character and the genius of his Mercury Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the work that established him in the literati’s eye.

Christian McKay has come from virtually nowhere to produce a bravura performance, all of Welles’ life appears to have been a bravura performance, and the casting director can be congratulated for finding this guy; unless bravura is all he’s good at! The film shows the extravert’s vulnerability as well as his exploitative behaviour and why those around him are happy to ‘wait for Orson’. There’s no doubt Welles was a genius and this film convincing portrays him as such.

Efron does well as the gauche boy but Claire Danes’ bed hopper seems too sweet to me; though no doubt if we met her a few years on she would’ve become a cynic as her attempts to ‘sleep’ her way to the top failed. James Tupper’s Joseph Cotten merits a mention but the film’s strengths are in showing the fears and excitement that run riot backstage.

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