2009 was definitely an excellent year in acting. Looking back at the recent Academy Awards, practically every performance, male and female alike, had the performer become something vastly different than their real life self. You didn’t see the actor, but you saw the person they inhabited, often blurring the lines between who they are and who they represented.

Some got left out of the mix, unfortunately, and this is one of them. Christian McKay is stellar as Orson Welles, whose perfectionist drive with regards to art and media (his art being the stage performance) makes him both revered and hated. McKay plays him perfectly. He practically steals and delivers on every single scene in the film. It’s one of those performances that makes you wonder why the Academy overlooked it. Certainly couldn’t be attendance and box office performance: The Messenger, the movie that got Woody Harrelson his best supporting actor nomination (McKay would have gotten the same nomination), has sold roughly the same amount of tickets as Me and Orson Welles did (which isn’t a lot at all). Harrelson’s nomination was well deserved though, and I think the same could have been said of McKay.

As for the movie itself, the story is set in late 1937, during the Great Depression, and Richard (Zac Efron), a high school senior, goes to New York with Hamlet in hand and finds himself outside of the Mercury Theatre, where Welles is working on a modern telling of Shakespeare’s Caesar. Richard gets the part of Lucas, a bard in the company of Brutus, played by Welles. He encounters the theatre’s secretary Sonja (Claire Danes), and they hit it off somehow, though, much like show business at times, things don’t always go so well.

The movie is at its best when it’s focused on the production of Caesar.  Welles went with a modern updating of the play (modern for 1937), with military costumes reminiscent of totalitarian leadership.  The players mix together quite well at times, usually getting along on stage despite Welles presence, though they also bicker as well, again because of Welles, though Welles sometimes doesn’t show up until much later.  Practicing the play becomes difficult at times, almost impossible.  Part of that lies in the decision to open the play in one week, often with little in the way of preparing.  But Welles believes (or doesn’t, he repeats the same supportive line often, almost rehearsed in a way to get the people to work better for him) in his players.  The show becomes a massive hit, solidifying Welles as a great stage actor and director.

The other plot that runs concurrent to the production is the romance between Richard and Sonja.  Efron is a decent enough actor, and plays the immature high school senior well enough.  His singing is much better than his acting, especially during the scene between Brutus and himself as the bard.  I can see why Disney loved him so much.  Given his acting though, Danes is able to carry the scenes between them.  Actually, their better scenes are ones that don’t involve Welles, as McKay just overwhelms them both.  But, that’s just Welles I suppose, right?

There’s also one other subplot that acts as a theme throughout the film the changes from the beginning to the end, something involving doing what you want to do and enjoying it.  I couldn’t exactly remember, though it was almost wasted.  It involved Richard and a young woman named Gretta, and her attempts at becoming a writer, either short story or play.  She has a short story published with help from Richard and Sonja, but that’s about it.  Like I said, it was a theme that connected the film together that just seemed not too necessary.

All in all though, this was a good film, usually at its best when Welles is in command (or not) of everything.  See it for McKay’s performance.

B+

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