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Review: Me and Orson Welles

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

By Shelby

Austin is fiercely loyal to its native sons and daughters who have gone on to make names for themselves in the world. This is especially true in the music and film industries. While Austin has spawned a number of talented filmmakers, perhaps the most famous and most influential has been Richard Linklater. Since he became an indie darling in 1991 with Slacker, Linklater has directed 14 films, including the seminal coming-of-age movie Dazed and Confused, the endlessly innovative Waking Life and the talky romances Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. In much of his early work, Austin plays as much a character as any of the actors. Watching Slacker is a time warp that transports viewers back to early ’90s Austin, especially for the Drag. Dazed and Confused utilized Austin landmarks like the moon towers and Top Notch, and Spiderhouse popped up in Waking Life. All of those paeans to Austin have without a doubt endeared Linklater to the city’s residents. He also helped found the Austin Film Society and the Austin film community that exists today.

Because of all that, it was particularly sad for my husband and I to be the only two people in the audience to see his latest directorial effort, Me and Orson Welles, at the Arbor on a Tuesday evening. I don’t know the reasons why, but Me and Orson Welles had a long journey to even make it to the Arbor. The film premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and then made its stateside debut at South by Southwest this past March. It opened for a limited release on Nov. 25 and is currently playing at both the Arbor Cinema and the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.

Like many Linklater films, Me and Orson Welles focuses on a young guy trying to figure out what being a guy is all about. This guy is played by Zac Efron. I’d never actually seen the tween favorite in anything other than TMZ before, so I was looking forward to uncovering what all the fuss was about. He was convincing in the part of Richard Samuels, a high school student and aspiring actor who bluffs his way into the company preparing to perform Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre in 1937. But honestly, Efron really had no chance against to stand out on screen when he is up against Christian McKay giving a brilliant performance as Orson Welles. Seriously, his voice sounded so much like Welles’ that it was almost spooky, and he also mastered all the pomp and arrogance of Welles as a man well aware of his own talent and power. Claire Danes plays Sonja, who works behind the scenes at the Mercury and is the ambivalent third angle between Richard and Orson. Honestly, as someone who grew up on My So-Called Life, it’s a bit disconcerting for Danes to be playing someone too old to date Efron’s character. But the love story isn’t the central element of Me and Orson Welles. Instead it’s about figuring out what your passions are in life and how far you’ll let those take you. It’s about the sheer luck of being in the right place at the right time. And mostly, it’s about growing up and realizing that the world isn’t fair.

Linklater’s movies have a reputation of being more talk than action, but in Me and Orson Welles much of the words belong to William Shakespeare and as interpreted by Welles, Samuels and the rest of the Mercury Theatre players, they are never dull and never too much. Aside from the leads, the supporting cast is stocked with talented performers, like Eddie Marsan (Little Dorrit, Happy-Go-Lucky), Kelly Reilly (Pride and Prejudice) and Men in Trees‘ James Tupper, unrecognizable as playboy and future movie star Joseph Cotton.

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