ME AND ORSON WELLES
Smell of the Greasepaint
Release Date: November 25, 2009
Runtime: 107 minutes
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Holly Gent Palmo and Vince Palmo
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Richard, played by Zac Efron of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 3, wants to be on the Broadway stage. On Nov. 5, 1937, he gets hired by Orson Welles to play a small but significant part in JULIUS CAESAR, Orson’s first production at his newly founded Mercury Theater. Welles, we should note, is the villain, a charismatic but often cruel and licentious bully who sleeps with every starlet he meets, even though his wife is pregnant with their first child.
In the midst of this jaded company of actors, stagehands, and assistant, Richard is a naïve breath of fresh air. He also has, as Welles says, God-created talent, but Orson says that to everyone. Claire Danes plays Sonja, Orson’s ambitious assistant. Although she is one of Orson’s paramours, she takes time off from Orson to bed Richard. This leads to the crisis the day before the play’s supposed to open. When she goes back with Welles, Richard fights for her, and Welles fires him.
Will the play go on? Will Richard become the great actor he wants to be? Will the cast survive this intense production that is extremely low budget?
Zac Efron does a tremendous job in this movie. As Richard, his buoyant, boyish demeanor works perfectly. The other actors do a serviceable job, especially newcomer Christian McKay as Orson Welles, but every once in a while lapse into stereotypes. Although this is a small budget movie, the production values are terrific. It is very close to a documentary on the New York theater scene. These characters exist, and the setting reflects real life.
Regrettably for media-wise families, ME AND ORSON WELLES has no moral compass. Young Richard gets seduced by Sonja, who tells him to come to bed. Sexual exploits are discussed. The name of Jesus is used pointedly as a curse word. And, there’s at least one reference mocking Christianity.
The movie’s ending does not alleviate this moral and spiritual degradation. There’s no sign of a moral redemption at the end. People use and abuse each other. The movie is constructed in such a way that viewers root for people to lie and to succeed in their lying. This is tragic, because the story could have been a great story and could have ended on a high note instead of an artsy, ambiguous, humanist letdown.
Zac Efron does a tremendous job in ME AND ORSON WELLES. As Richard, his buoyant, boyish demeanor works perfectly. The other actors do a serviceable job, but sometimes lapse into stereotypes. Although this is a small budget movie, the production values are terrific. Regrettably, the movie has no moral compass. People use and abuse each other. Also, the movie’s strong humanist worldview is constructed in such a way that viewers root for people to lie and to succeed in their lying.