Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles

Rated PG

Starring Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay

Orson Welles was a creative genius. He directed and starred in Citizen Kane, regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. He was responsible for the radio adaption of War of the Worlds that was so realistic that it caused mass hysteria because people listening actually thought aliens had invaded. And for most people of my generation or younger, he’s best known for being the voice of Unicron in the 1986 Transformers: The Movie. Okay, that last one might not be a career highlight. But it can’t be denied that Orson Welles was an impressive guy.

Me and Orson Welles is a movie that shows us a snapshot of Orson Welles’ life as he prepares for his 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre. Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a young aspiring actor who finds himself cast in the play and discovers that Welles (played by Christian McKay) is every bit the genius he imagined. However, he grows to realise that Welles also has a dark side.

The movie immerses us into the theatre world of New York in 1937. Over the course of a week, we see every step as the cast and crew prepare for opening night. And right at the centre is Orson Welles. McKay does an impressive job of playing Welles with energy and presence. If the real Welles was anything like McKay’s portrayal, then you know why Welles could get away with the incredibly risky creative decisions he made. You just want to be near this man and be part of the amazing ride he’s on.

On the other hand, once you get to know Welles, he’s not that likeable a person. He regularly commits adultery behind the back of his pregnant wife. He forces his workers to be a part of this deception by having them scream out a code word if his wife finds her way to the theatre. That way he can quickly detach himself from the latest object of his desire and pretend to be the doting husband. He lies to everyone, making them false promises and even more false, yet well-rehearsed, compliments. But most of all he is a coward, getting others to do his dirty work for him, never facing the consequences of his petty whims. Welles may have been an admirable artist, but he was not a very nice man.

It’s easy to be disappointed when you meet your heroes. You have this perfect picture of what they will be like in your head. We tend to forget that they are human just like us. The tabloid magazine industry primarily exists to show us that celebrities are human. That they have flaws. That they have an ugly side. When Richard comes face to face with one of his idols, he’s ecstatic. But as he spends time with Welles, as he gets to know him, the shine wears off. This is not the man he thought Welles was. The same applies to us when we meet our heroes. They’ll never be the same as the ideal hero in our head. With one exception. Jesus Christ. Here’s one man that holds up to investigation. The more you come to know him, the more you find out about him, the closer you get to him as you read about him in the Bible, the more he stands firm. Jesus is everything that he promises and more. Luke, the guy who wrote the Gospel of Luke, so that you may know exactly who Jesus is and exactly what he did. “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.“ (Luke 1:1-4)

Me and Orson Welles is a great movie if you want to get a taste of life in the theatre. The only problem I had with the film is that McKay absolutely steals the show with his Orson Welles portrayal. The movie is meant to be told from the point of view of Zac Efron’s character, but the character tends to get lost in Welles’ shadow and doesn’t get fleshed out as much as he could. Despite that, Me and Orson Welles is very much worth seeing.

Me and Orson Welles is released in Australia July 29

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About Joel A Moroney

Associate Minister at St Luke's Anglican Church, Liverpool (in the Sydney Diocese). A very strange man, but he usually has Pez, so that makes it okay.
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