Making the Grades
Release Date: 25 November 2009 (Limited theatrical release)
Beware of the “creative genius.” With all that energy going into his talent, it’s unlikely he’ll have any leftover to waste on things like civility, humility or morality
The staff at the Mercury Theater is well aware of this. Working for Orson Welles (played by Christian McKay) is akin to being merely a pencil or brush in an artist’s hand. Yet despite his lack of appreciation or acknowledgment for their efforts, most of the company put up with his bad manners, just grateful for the opportunity to hang onto the coattails of the up-and-comer.
Enter Richard Samuels (Zac Efron). At seventeen years of age, the precocious high school student is anxious to make a name for himself. Strolling the theater district of New York City, he happens to run into Orson’s troupe doing a street performance in hopes of drumming up attention for their upcoming presentation of Julius Caesar. Richard gets his lucky break when Mr. Welles happens to see him clowning around with the other actors and offers him a bit part.
To prepare for opening night, which is just one week away, the boy is placed in the care of Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), production assistant to Mr. Welles. It only takes moments for Richard to realize the beautiful blonde is the order in Orson’s chaos. With connections to half of the movers and shakers in showbiz, and doing her best to be introduced to the rest, her charm insures the show will go on. She also explains the finer points of dealing with a competitive, self-centered boss who knows he’s brilliant. Her warnings include never criticizing the man and never mentioning his pregnant wife (Emily Allen) especially when he’s seducing another woman.
But the real role the fictitious Richard is about to play is being a pair of eyes from which the audience may observe the master of cinema as he produces and performs his landmark adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. And Christian McKay does an incredible job of making you forget he’s not the history-making writer/director/actor/producer himself, as he takes on all the arrogant, temperamental and conniving personality traits Orson Welles was reputed to have.
Parents considering sharing this movie with their teens should be given a few cautions too. Sexual banter and slang terms, as well as profanities and crude gestures, are frequent as the cast waits for the show’s star to show up for rehearsals. A couple of the men even place wagers on who has, and who will, bed the few females amongst them. There are many sexual relationships discussed or implied in the script, including one Richard’s teenaged character engages in with an older woman. Lying is portrayed on several occasions to avoid negative consequences and manipulate others. Also, the staged version of Caesar’s assassination depicted here uses blood effects, which may offend the squeamish. And Orson’s iconic cigar makes a regular appearance, along with portrayals of smoking and drinking by adults and teens.
Me and Orson Welles paints a picture of a ladder-climbing world where ego and ambition aren’t afraid to tread on the hopes and dreams of others. Yet that is not likely to be the greatest accomplishment of this 1930s period biographical drama. What the movie does best is igniting a spark of curiosity in a generation too young to be familiar with this entertainment legend—a creative genus credited with changing the industry forever.
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Me and Orson Welles.
Orson Welles staged his adaptation of Shakespeares Julius Caesar two years before the out break of World War II, dressing his players in uniforms his viewers would associate with the fascism movement happening in Europe at that time. What effect do you think the current political climate had on the audiences interpretation of the production? How can directors manipulate perspective (such as placing an old story in a modern setting) to change the message their work conveys? How does personal experience affect the way we receive media messages?
In the movie, many of the characters around Orson Welles tolerate or ignore his rude behavior. Why? What do they hope to gain from this talented man? What other things are they willing to do to advance their careers? What would you give for a chance at stardom? When would the price be too high?