Me and Orson Welles
For a film about drama, Me and Orson Welles — Orson Welles and I? Do we care? — is obstinately undramatic. I kept trying to will it into some kind of life, any kind of life. Come on. You can do it. Think of the children! But it would not be roused. It just plodded on, drearily and leadenly, for the full 114 minutes, like I had nothing better to do, which I didn’t, but that’s not the point. Based on true events, it follows the 22-year-old Welles as he mounts his ground-breaking New York 1937 production of Julius Caesar, but as a film about a famous play it has none of the pizzazz, wit, or invention of, say, a Shakespeare in Love. That, though, did have a script souped up by Tom Stoppard. Tom Stoppard. Where is he when you need him? I had a blocked kitchen sink this morning and could have certainly done with him then.
Adapted by Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Before Sunrise, Fast Food Nation) from the book by Robert Kaplow, the ‘Me’ of the title — the ‘I’? Are we bothering to care yet? — is Richard Samuels, an aspiring young actor who lucks out by managing to blag himself into Welles’s company. This is, yes, also a coming-of-age story, which is fine, but I do wish boys like Richard would come of age quickly. (I have got all day, but that’s not the point either.) Anyway, Richard is played by heart-throbby Zac Efron, star of the High School Musical franchise, and who is said to make teen girls hyperventilate, which is a thing, but not such a big thing. Take a teen girl to the threshold of Topshop and she’ll hyperventilate. Hint she might be getting GHD hair straighteners for Christmas and she’ll hyperventilate. It would be quicker to list all the things that don’t make a teen girl hyperventilate. It’s a bit of a weird business, having Mr Efron in a film like this, as teen girls probably aren’t that interested in 1930s literary New York — there wasn’t even an Accessorize! — while those who are interested in Welles and his contemporaries probably aren’t going to want to see a Zac Efron movie. My guess is that Efron needed a more mature vehicle, while this film just wouldn’t have got made without his name attached. But, like I said, it’s just a guess. What do I know, really? Zilch. I can’t even get Tom round to help unblock my sink.
Zac Efron does not embarrass himself, which is something, but, then again, he’s not given anything to embarrass himself with. As a character, Richard is sensationally bland, almost a blank. He’s inducted into the cruelties of the adult world, and smiles prettily. The brassy career girl (Claire Danes) he falls for, even though there isn’t a squeak of sexual chemistry between them, is cruel, and he smiles prettily. Other times, he simply goes about Manhattan in a jaunty period cap, while smiling prettily. Actually, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all Efron can do is smile prettily. I was just trying to be fair.
But the star of the show, anyway, is meant to be Welles, as played by Christian McKay, but I cannot tell you how authentic his portrayal is. I know about Welles, obviously, and I’ve even seen that little film he made — Citizen Kane? — but, as a person, he’ll always be that fat man in the sherry ads to I. He may well, in his younger years, have been brilliant, and preposterously precocious, and his Julius Caesar, with its Italian fascist costumes, may well have been monumental, but here all you get is a pouty, spoilt, sulky, vengeful, absurdly theatrical fellow bossing people about in the most deranged manner. He is also such a charmless skirt-chaser that, if he’d ever chased my skirt, I’d have slapped him, and I can’t afford to be that choosy, if at all. As for his company, they are all just such types — the womaniser; the vacuous diva; the ingénue; the harassed theatre owner, and so on. The ending? So corny you will almost certainly think to yourself: I sat though 114 minutes for this? And I say that as someone with absolutely nothing better to do.
This is a highly conventional, terminally insipid period drama of the kind that will only float your boat if, for example, Mrs Henderson Presents did, and which also went in for some weird casting (Will Young, if I recall correctly). It’s innocuous enough but that’s about it, really. Seriously, where is Tom Stoppard when you need him? I’ve done the sink, but I would like him to take the rubbish out now.