Me and Orson Welles (2008)

Note:  I don’t usually turn the spotlight on modern movies, but I was willing to make an exception for one that I think might be of particular interest to fans of classic films.  I promise to resume reviewing the classics in the near future.

In 1937, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) was just like so many teenagers longing to make a name for himself in the world.  He wants to be an actor, but he suddenly finds himself in a position that most aspiring actors can only dream of.  One afternoon, he runs into Orson Welles (Christian McKay) in front of the Mercury Theater and manages to land the part of Lucius in a production of Julius Caesar.  So all of a sudden, Richard has gone from being a high school student to being part of the theater scene and spending all his free time with the likes of Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.  He also spends quite a bit of time with Sonja (Claire Danes), the theater’s secretary.  A lot of the men in the show have been trying to win her over, but Richard seems to be succeeding where the others have failed.

But Richard quickly realizes that working with Orson Welles can be a very trying process.  Orson may be a brilliant man, but boy, is he arrogant.  Orson was also great at making you feel like you’re part of his inner circle and your presence is valued, but it’s all just for the sake of getting what he wants from you.  Richard learns that last lesson the hard way when he finds out that Sonja had an affair with Orson in hopes of furthering her career.  Not realizing who he was dealing with, Richard confronts Orson just before the show is set to open and Richard is fired.  But not wanting to replace an actor so shortly before the show, Orson apologizes to Richard and hires him back.  Richard believes him and when the show finally does open, it’s a smashing success.  However, Richard doesn’t get to savor the success for long because he is fired immediately after the show, this time for good.  Thrown back to reality, Richard resumes his life as a typical high school student, but with a new direction in life and a new girl.

I’d heard a few good things about Me and Orson Welles here and there since it first came out, but all of a sudden, it seemed like I was hearing a lot of good talk about it so I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I did because I was really quite impressed by it.  Even though Zac Efron and Claire Danes are the more recognizable names in the movie, there’s no doubt that the real star is Christian McKay as Orson Welles.  Seriously, he was Orson Welles.  He looked like him, he had that voice down, all the mannerisms were completely spot on.  How he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this movie is a mystery me.  James Tupper as Joseph Cotton was also fantastic.  Zac Efron isn’t somebody I ever really paid much attention to, the only thing I’d actually seen him in was the remake of Hairspray, but I was pleased to see that there might actually be some substance beneath the teen heartthrob exterior.  Overall, it was well written and very well produced.  It absolutely deserves more recognition than it gets.  Especially for someone who spends so much time watching older movies, it was really refreshing to watch something like this and be reminded that there are, indeed, movies still being made that value substance over style.  (But that isn’t to say that Me and Orson Welles lacks style.  The 1930s sets and costumes are fab!)
You’ve just got to look beyond the mainstream to find the real gems like this one.