Me and Orson Welles

Orson Welles (born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 6,1915) was an actor, director, writer and producer who worked in many different mediums, including radio, television, film and theatre. He is perhaps best known for his first film, Citizen Kane, in which he starred as Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper baron, and his 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds.

Me and Orson Welles is a charming, independent film, which focuses on what is possibly the least talked about part of the great man’s career, that is, his time on the stage. The film deals with Welles’ 1937 attempt to stage an avante-garde production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which all of the major characters, Julius, Brutus, Cassius, etc. are dressed in fascist uniforms. Witnessing this valiant effort is the movie’s hero, 17-year-old Richard Samuels, who becomes part of the play by chance after being noticed by Welles outside the Mercury Theatre. The film chronicles his adventures both romantic and theatrical and his ultimate parting of ways with Welles and his theatre troupe.

This is a great movie. It features excellent performances from Zac Efron (Highschool Musical, Hair Spray, 17 Again, The Lucky One) as Richard Samuels; Christian McKay (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Handsome Stranger) as Orson Welles; and Claire Danes (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, Terminator 3, The Hours) as the film’s love interest.

What is really interesting about Me and Orson Welles is the fact that it is a film that aims at an older audience. There is very little swearing, no blatant sex, no violent action, minimal set changes and many references to actors and entertainers recognizable by an older generation. This is not to say that it isn’t entertaining for younger viewers as well, but in a world where Hollywood continues to make movies for white, middle-class teenage boys (300, Resident Evil, Bourne Legacy), it is refreshing to see that the American movie machine can still turn out movies for people over the age of 60.

Although the movie is set in New York, it was actually filmed in a studio in London, and the set designers have done a good job of making the film’s sets look like New York in the 1930s, giving older movie goers more opportunity to drown in nostalgia.

For all that they try to recapture the atmosphere of the Depression era in the Big Apple, there is one major continuity problem that I am aware of. In 1937 Orson Wells was 22 years old. Christian McKay was almost 40 when portrayed Welles in the film. Despite this inaccuracy, however, the older McKay plays an excellent Orson Welles, and it probably makes for a better story because an older Welles comes across as more intimidating and a more believable mentor than someone closer in age to Richard.

Anyway, two thumbs up for this excellent little film. Go see it and support independent films.