Richard Linklater makes human stories, but with style. He is an artist, and everything he does has a voice, a distinct voice that’s unique to each of his works yet retains his style.
With Dazed and Confused he captured the last days of high school; he managed to dig within himself and find the voice of a struggling, frustrated, and hopeful youth, terrified of failure and elated at any kind of acceptance.
In my personal favorite of Linklater’s, Waking Life, he explores notions of consciousness through a series of philosophical conversations. And, to augmented the fluid nature of our perception, he used animation, which simultaneously makes hard edges out of the colors while still allowing forms to twist into impossibly unrealistic shapes—and in so doing, shows us how we look at, store, and process the world.
And then we get Me & Orson Welles.
The only work of Orson Welles I’ve seen is Citizen Kane. To describe Citizen Kane as a masterpiece is to say the universe is big. Citizen Kane is, easily, the best movie ever made. It’s perfect writing, perfect acting, perfect lighting and camera angles, perfect music, all perfectly serving the themes woven within.
What kind of mind could come up with and execute such perfection in the time of Studio Boss dominance? What ego is required to compete with Hollywood’s golden age rulers? What force of will is necessary to see something that paints a bullseye on the face of the countries largest media company, and then fires, hitting what should have been a kill shot.
I have a special edition of Citizen Kane. On that disc is one of the last interviews with Orson Welles and he, by that point, was a broken man. Welles talks about how his ego and avarice in making Citizen Kane ruined his career in Hollywood just as it began.
Citizen Kane is a masterpiece, equalled only by Welles’s later work, A Touch of Evil, or so I’m told. I haven’t seen A Touch of Evil. For how good it is, it’s oddly unavailable. But, I wouldn’t expect modern commerce to store it next to Disney’s Frozen.
In Me & Orson Welles, Linklater doesn’t just capture the ego, the drive, the mind of Orson Welles. Linklater captures the cinematic style of time in filmmaking that has long since passed. His shots are melodramatic, but come from a time when melodrama wasn’t a bad thing.
The acting is equally over-the-top in each scene.
Christian McKay brings Orson Welles into being, saying things I’ve never read or heard Orson say, but which fit perfectly into the persona I imagine. And yet, each time McKay spoke, I kept wondering, “How would John Lithgow interpret this role?”
The movie follows the conspicuously named Richard played by Zac Efron. Again, over-the-top, lacking subtlety and absolutely perfect for this movie because that’s the style. As with McKay, I kept having feelings that I wasn’t watching Efron but instead a resurrected River Phoenix. It was unsettling in a way. But, at the same time, it brought me deeper into the scene because it wasn’t Phoenix. It was someone playing someone greater than himself, perhaps what Freud might call the ego of Richard, bigger-than-life and yet contained in the human form.
Like Orson Welles, like Citizen Kane, Me & Orson Welles plays bigger than itself. Its themes are similar to other works, it’s cinematography reminiscent of previous films, it dialogue natural, but from a time that no longer exists, from a golden age, even it was also a gilded age.
Maybe I’m projecting here because what I’m about to say is what I try to share with everyone who feels small: Me & Orson Welles tells us that the people we see, the men and women who are larger-than-life… they’re not. They’re just human, just like me, just like you. They are doing something great because they work harder at it, they fight harder, they get up one more time until they transcend what they thought was possible and do something worth remembering.
When that thing is finished, they descend Mount Olympus and return back into human form. Maybe they will scale the slopes again, maybe not. But, they will always have that moment when they were on top. And we can too.