Each year, amid the hoopla and millions spent, one movie completely falls between the cracks. Originally I thought that was Oren Moverman’s “The Messenger,” but then Woody Harrelson got some award attention and the film got a little uplift.
So the winner this year: Richard Linklater’s charming “Me and Orson Welles.” It’s been in theaters for about a month and made less than a million dollars. The distributor is non-existent, which is a shame. This is such a fine film, and one of the real indie companies should have released it. “Me and Orson Welles” deserved a shot.
Luckily, the San Francisco critics reached out and awarded Christian McKay, who plays Welles so brilliantly, their Best Supporting Actor award. I guess that’s something. (McKay also goes up against Harrelson at this year’s Indie Spirit Awards.)
But otherwise, Linklater’s period piece, set in 1937 New York, will go to DVD and cable. Someone will say to me six months from now, “I saw the best movie last night on TV. Why didn’t it do more?” Uh-huh.
Part of my own reluctance about the film was star Zac Efron, who plays 18-year-old Richard, an acolyte actor who winds up getting a bit part in Orson Welles’s landmark production of “Julius Caesar” at the famed Mercury Theater. Efron has been so maligned as a teen heartthrob that you don’t want to take him seriously. Yet, he’s just perfect as Richard, and carries his role with charm and dignity. He was good in “Hairspray,” too. It’s time to cut him some slack and forget the endless, meaningless “blobbing” about him from gossip sites.
The rest of the cast is spot on, too, especially Claire Danes as Welles’s ambitious Girl Friday and James Tupper as Welles’s leading man Joseph Cotten, Eddie Marsan (always great) as John Houseman, Leo Bill as Norman Lloyd (who would play Dr. Auschlander on “St. Elsewhere” 50 years later) and Zoe Kazan as a wannabe short-story writer. They’re all great.
Linklater, I’m sure, had no money for this film, but the production looks lush thanks to some really gifted cinematography, production and art design. New York of 1937 is very beautifully recreated, especially a scene in the real Bryant Park. It’s nice work.
So what happened? Well, there’s no real sex or anything of that nature. There’s no vulgarity, no explosions, or leaps of logic. Linklater recreates the “Caesar” production masterfully. It’s an intelligent, articulate, well-crafted film that’s completely satisfying. And so, in this economy, has no place to go. Who would want to see such a thing? Fifteen years ago, the old Miramax would have released “Me and Orson Welles” and gotten many Oscar nominations. But in this environment, unless Orson were blue, or to get naked with his leading lady, distributors feel there’s no audience.
Too bad: if you can find Linklater’s little gem in a theater, go see it. Without fail, get the DVD. And pray that, when the recession passes, intelligence will be rewarded again.