21 December 2009

Possibilities, The Wonderful World of Me and Orson Welles

Imagine a movie so rich that it inspires you to write, to act, to research, to think, to play. A film about acting, about the late 1930's, about a great auteur, about theater, about young people discovering that the world is full of "possibilities." Those possibilities include enjoying and creating art and of course, romance, sex and where the twain can happily meet. Imagine that and you will start to appreciate director Richard Linklater's boffo new film, Me and Orson Welles.

The word and the very notion of "possibilities" brackets the central story contained in Me & Orson. That intoxicating idea that there are muses aplenty out there that a young person can enlist in the name of creative art. Zac Efron stars as Richard Samuels a 17 year old (he'll be 18 next month) high school student from Jersey who stumbles into a role in Orson Welles' Mercury Theater production of Shakespeare's Cesar. The year is 1937 and Welles is still a year away from the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast and four years away from a little picture called Citizen Kane (1941). Yet he is already, at the ripe old age of 22, well known in theater and radio circles.

Christian McKay doesn't portray Welles so much as he re-creates him. In any other year he'd be a mortal lock for the best supporting actor Oscar but given Christoph Waltz's turn as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, his chances rate at no better than 50-50. That's a shame, because he's brilliant. End digression.

McKay doesn't just look and sound like Welles, he has the gestures, the posture, the tone of the man. It takes about five seconds to go from: "hey that guy is just like Welles" to slip for the rest of the film into delightful make believe. Once you forget that someone is playing Welles the rest of the story can tell itself.

A chap named Leo Bill plays actor Norman Lloyd, not nearly so famous today (he was the Saboteur (1942) in the film of the same name) but his uncanny accuracy in playing Lloyd also enhances the film. Eddie Marsan is fine as John Houseman and James Tupper passable as Joseph Cotton. Efron has the great luxury of playing a fictional character. He's of course best known for those Disney musicals but is just dandy as the confident and conniving, yet ultimately naive aspirant. Claire Danes and Zoe Kazan play our young protagonist's love interests. Danes' appeal has always been a mystery to me though she's a good enough actress. Kazan, who was notable in a small role in Revolutionary Road (2008) may not have stardom written all over but its scribbled in some pretty conspicuous parts. Better than beautiful, she is interesting and a memorable actress who should grace the screen for many years to come.

Master Samuels has quite the time cavorting with Welles and company. Lessons about treading the boards, the politics of theater and screwing and getting, shall we say, screwed, will be meanwhile presented. He's that handsome, plucky sort that is easy to root for and root for him we do. The bonus is that we get to let our imaginations inhabit the world of Welles so wonderfully recreated here. It's not just the actors but the sets and costumes that evoke one of those magical times in American arts that stands at the cusp of great breakthroughs.

How does it all work for our hero? Does he become a long time protege of Welles, or is his tenure short lived? Surely, you don't want me to spoil that!

Ultimately this is a story about possibilities. All those possibilities within reach of those who dare to grasp. It has been said (on numerous occasions by yours truly) that the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. Young Richard and Gretta (Ms. Kazan's character) have not just the talent but the exuberance, the brilliance, the gusto to find its best uses. And while at it to sup of life's many delicious offerings.

Hanging out, however briefly, with the likes of Orson Welles (just who was "his like," you might rightly ask) should inspire anyone to soar. Ahh...the POSSIBILITIES.

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