Me and Orson Wellesopened in my area last Friday, and I went to see it Monday night with my friend Lori. It is SUCH a treat. I wrote a bit about the storyline a few weeks ago in my review of the novel on which the film is based (you can read my review of Robert Kaplow's novel here). Suffice it to say Me and Orson Welles is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen. I haven’t verified this, but I’m pretty sure whole passages of dialogue were transferred to the script, practically verbatim. I loved everything about this movie. I’m a movie nut, as long time readers of this blog well know, but it’s a rare thing that a movie comes along that caters so perfectly to my tastes. This story is a love letter to the golden age of New York theater, when another world war probably seemed like an impossibility to anyone not deeply interested or involved in politics or foreign affairs. Nostalgic and funny, Me and Orson Welles is not only one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen, it’s also got to be one of the best theater movies ever made. All of the backstage drama makes the scenes showing the actual performance that much more powerful. You can’t help but stand in awe at the magic that’s possible on stage, and it’s such a treat to see it unfold.
The runaway star of the film is British actor Christian McKay as Orson Welles. The man deserves every single accolade and award thrown his way. His performance is absolutely spectacular. Now, remember that I’m not a Welles-ian scholar by any means, but having read the novel and seen several of Welles’s films multiple times, McKay doesn’t just play Orson Welles, he is Orson Welles. He manages to capture at the very least the public persona (and that is no small feat!), the essence of the man and the magnetic quality of his personality that comes through on screen. McKay’s performance is the center of the film, and deservedly so. McKay deserves every acting nomination possible IMO.
Zac Efron also rises above his High School Musical roots to deliver a surprisingly strong performance as the teenage Richard. While Richard’s role is of course prominent in the novel (it’s told from his point-of-view), you lose a little of that on screen. The movie is a little less heavy on Richard’s coming-of-age angst and school drama, choosing instead to focus on the backstage theatrics that ensue in the frantic days prior to the Mercury Theater’s first performance of Julius Caesar. He nails the role of Richard perfectly, balancing the character's bravado and uncertainty, a perfect foil for McKay's rather overwhelming Welles. Efron "fits" period roles really well - this and his turn in Hairspray being favorites of mine. Would love to see more of this type of work from him in the future.
The rest of the cast is chock-full of notable acting talent and strong performances - just want to mention a couple. Eddie Marsan, who was so wonderfully funny as Pancks in Little Dorrit earlier this year plays Welles's long-suffering business partner John Houseman. It was a real treat to see him on the big screen. :) Claire Danes was pretty good as Richard's crush, Sonja Jones. She fit the time period well, and delivered a good sense of Sonja's take no prisoners attitude towards achieving her goals that comes through in the novel. James Tupper really impressed me as Joseph Cotten, not only because he's cute (LOL) but because he's such a dead ringer for the real Joseph Cotten, in my opinion anyway. I must also mention Kelly Reilly as Muriel Brassler, one of the lead actresses in the Mercury Theater troupe. She's becoming something of a familiar face, since I've now seen her in Poirot, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Pride and Prejudice, and Sherlock Holmes (review of the latter forthcoming). I was also very impressed with Zoe Kazan's turn as Richard's more *ahem* age-appropriate love interest, Gretta. Kazan happens to be the granddaughter of Elia Kazan, which I thought was an interesting piece of trivia. She also had such a great "look" about her, not your typical Hollywood look which was rather refreshing to see. I could mention a laundry list of other enjoyable performances, but I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, the film is packed with top-notch work.
The success of the film rests in large part on director Richard Linklater's pacing and world-crafting, both of which are superb. This story covers just one short week in Richard's life, and due to that time constraint, the pace never lets up. The film practically hums with energy and life. And the movie's depiction of 1930s New York is just fantastic - I could've stayed in that world for ages. :) Also, the costumes and set pieces just scream authenticity - everything on-screen represents period drama at its finest. I also adored the music - both the original score pieces, and the use of period songs, the latter so important to Richard's character in the book. It's all very, very well done. Loved the movie, can't wait until it comes out on DVD. It's backstage drama at its finest. :)