Movie Review: Me and Orson Welles (2009)

Christian McKay in Me and Orson Welles
Photo: Freestyle Releasing

Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles is a hard one to put your finger on. It’s got comedic elements, a baseline dramatic framework and then doesn’t fully dedicate itself to being a coming-of-age story. However, despite my inability to nail it down in a nutshell, it’s a great film with one of the better male performances of 2009.

Starring as the titular “me” is Zac Efron playing Richard, a wannabe actor who coincidentally runs into a 22-year-old Orson Welles (Christian McKay) coming out of the newly-opened Mercury Theatre where he will produce, direct and star in his adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Words are said and Richard finds himself with a part in the play and rubbing elbows with Welles on a day-to-day basis as something of a friend-at-arms-length over the course of the next week, culminating in the opening night production.

The central focus is undoubtedly Richard as we see the movie through his eyes, but McKay is dominating as Welles in a performance that steals the show. I’d say this makes everyone else look meek in his shadow, but perhaps that’s exactly as it was with Welles, a man that knew exactly what to say, what to do and when to do it. All in an effort to ensure things are done his way. He comes across as a madman of sorts and if you’re in his presence you feel blessed. It’s as if you are a part of his genius. After all, the film is set in 1937, one year before Welles was known for his “War of the Worlds” broadcast and most certainly before Citizen Kane. That said, McKay manages to bring to life elements of a Welles we would come to know and hear in the future.

The lengths people will go to please him and better their position in the industry are most reflected in the performance given by Claire Danes as Welles’s production assistant Sonja Jones. Throughout most of the film Sonja speaks of her anticipated meeting with mega-producer David O. Selznick and proves nothing is taboo when it comes to protecting the longevity of your career.

Efron’s Richard is the wide-eyed optimist in all of this as he gets more and more comfortable in his new surroundings. After all, it’s much better than his “other” life he as a 17-year-old student, even though he hasn’t given up on that life just yet. After all, if Me and Orson Welles is truly about anything, it’s about youthful possibilities and the chasing of dreams. Even Welles is a youngster in this story.

It’s about how you can have the golden ticket in your hand and how it can blow away just as quickly. The message, of course, is to not let the lost moment be the end of you as there is still always more to do.

Linklater co-wrote and directed one of my all-time favorite films in Before Sunset and there are many others to his credit that adorn my DVD shelf space, and again he has put together a film worth adding to that collection for repeated viewings. It’s a film I suggest you take in at the theater and demand at your local art house cinema. If anything, it is a must see simply for McKay’s performance alone.