Me And Orsen Welles
I am a huge fan of Richard Linklater, as a teenager I watched Dazed and Confused many times, I knew every line of dialogue by heart, I thought Waking Life and Slackers were deliciously subversive, and I thought School of Rock was endearingly funny. So it was with great interest that I sat down to watch ‘Me and Orsen Welles’ – a movie that is markedly different from Linklater’s other movies because it is a period piece, set in the 1930s, and it is by way of semi-biopic, a movie based on real events and real people.
The movie follows a week in the life of Orsen Welles famed theatre troupe through the eyes of a young acting student in his first professional gig. Orsen Welles is an iconic character who revolutionised theatre and film, his movie Citizen Kane is still regularly touted as one of the best movies ever made, however he is also famously an incredibly difficult personality, and the film is fascinated by this man’s strong, irascible behaviour – a man who would not compromise, who never did anything simply to please other people and who is alternately entirely self-centred and amazingly charming.
It is this exploration of the uncompromising genius that I think is the film’s greatest strength. The actor who plays Orsen Welles (Christian McKay – a relative unknown from London) perfectly captures his schoolboy charm and his inflamatory behaviour. We get to see the world of theatre and the arts through the eyes of someone who is relatively innocent, a boy who is just coming of age and learning about life, which I think is a very clever way of discussing a personality like Orsen Welles; most of the time we watch his exploits with fascination and even admiration, never forgetting for a moment that this man will one day become a genius.
This film does continue the themes of alienation and coming of age that appear in Linklater’s other movies and the time period of the 1930s is lovelingly recreated with a beautiful nostalgic glow. However, I found that what was supposed to be the main storyline between Zac Efron and Claire Danes, was always overshadowed by the simple spectacle of watching a genius like Orsen Welles. The scenes between Efron and Danes often seemed strained and without chemistry – Efron’s acting ability also wavered in the romance scenes as if he was uncomfortable with what he was doing.
Perhaps this is just testament to the overwhelmingly strong personality of Welles’ character, but I found that I was really just waiting for the next scene that had Orsen himself in it.
I’m not sure if this film would have been a stronger film if it was only about the theatre production and Orsen Welles – but I did feel as if the personalities of the other two core cast members felt very superficial compared to the larger than life main character. Maybe this is because he was based on a real character and they were largely fictionalised?
I would still say this was a very enjoyable film, and I would definitely recommend watching it for anyone interested in the world behind the scenes of a theatre company, and for the wonderful performance of Christian McKay as Orsen Welles.
Reviewed by: Kat Phyn