12 February 2011

Me & Orson Wells

*** (3.5 stars)

Me and Orson Wells has been on my "Rent it" list since it came out. My interest peaked when Christian McKay (the upcoming Showtime series "Borgia") started garnering nominations for his performance of Orson Wells from the BAFTA's and Spirit Awards. Then, it just kind of left my mind completely. Until, that is, my friend and movie buddy got it in the mail. Exhausted from a long day of shopping, we piled in front of the TV with enough food to kill an army.

"Orson Wells" centers on Richard (Zac Efron, not remotely annoying in this which may actually be annoying), a 17 year old high school student with dreams of becoming an actor. Or painter. Or writer. Or all around renaissance man. As luck and chance would have it, he runs into Orson Wells outside the Mercury theatre just weeks before his interpretation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" is set to open. He impresses him with his charm and lack of embarrassment into a small part in the play. Richard is in awe of everything, but nothing more so than Wells assistant; the comely Sonja (Claire Danes). She comes on to him much to the chagrin of the other cast members and he learns valuable life lessons. The movie is directed by Richard Linkater ("Dazed & Confused", "School of Rock") for some reason and based on the novel by Robert Kaplow.

The movie takes a while to get into. It's staged like a play (I didn't know it was a book before, but wondered about it out loud while watching), and is acted and shot in a way that is both parodying and applauding studio films of the late 30s and 40s. Danes seems pulled in two directions with her acting. Her head baubles with each line as if she has a nervous disorder. It's distracting, but when she stops doing it (though only momentarily) she is very genuine. I like her. Maybe it's because I was obsessed with "My So-Called Life". Maybe because she is a plain girl, that is to say she looks like someone you might know; that I am drawn to her movies.

McKay is instantly recognizable as Wells- the pre-movie Wells that was the dapper gentleman of Broadway. The man who would turn the film world upside down for the next 70 years. He is a shadow puppet unfortunately. A man who seems to be acting all the time, but who also seems to be doing it on purpose. I don't know a lot about Wells except that he was a bit of a tyrant and perfectionist. McKay is immediately burdened with playing a character so identifiable in our minds for playing characters.

Eventually, the movie won me over (a bit) and I appreciated the relationships between the characters, the winks and nods to real life powerhouses in Hollywood and New York, and the music. It is an interesting movie if you are a fan of old Hollywood and the theatre or if you are just a pervy lady who likes to stare at Zac Efron- no judging. Otherwise, I fear you may be bored or disappointed.

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