Films about filmmakers often teeter on a precarious line. If they want the viewer to appreciate that director or star, then they have to encapsulate their skill or charm in a way befitting of their name. For example, “Hitchcock” worked because it evoked the joy of watching an old Hitchcock classic, and “My Week with Marilyn” was light fun because Michelle Williams captured the ethereal grace of Marilyn Monroe.
On the flipside, “Hugo” (though I know I’m in the minority) feels unsuccessful because it doesn’t quite reproduce the magic of the early days of cinema it so gushingly tributes. Similarly, Richard Linklater’s “Me and Orson Welles” fails to pay proper homage to Orson Welles’ genius by not having any ingenuity of its own. I mean, at least “Hugo” was sweet and entertaining. This is not so lucky.
This biography is saved from being unwatchable by Christian McKay’s spirited portrayal of Welles, pre-“Citizen Kane” glory. The movie takes place during Welles’ days on the stage, directing a visionary production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” But from the urgency and dignity granted it by Linklater, you would think it was a community theatre production of “Godspell.”
The biopic also suffers from Welles being far from in focus. Granted, “My Week with Marilyn” was about Eddie Redmayne’s Colin Clark being romanced by Monroe, but it knew who the main character was. “Me and Orson Welles” can’t really decide if McKay’s Welles is the protagonist or if it’s Zac Efron’s Richard Samuels, a teenage actor swept into the production. Of course, they both vie for Claire Danes’ Sonja, a production assistant on the show.
So there’s a bit of a love triangle, a bit of a coming-of-age story, AND a portrait of an artist all colliding in “Me and Orson Welles.” If these different aspects were layered, perhaps the movie would work. But it’s just a muddled mess that reeks of ambivalence and indecision rather than the bold, brash brilliance of the real Orson Welles. C- /