107 Minutes // United Kingdom // Maximum Film Distribution
dir. Richard Linklater
Friday, September 5th, 2008. Ryerson Theater.
World Premiere @ the 33rd Annual Toronto International Film Festival.
Special Presentations Program.
starring: Zac Efron, Christian McKay & Claire Danes
Richard Linklater’s latest is a unique tale for him: a period comedy about Orson Welles’ stage production of Julius Caesar. This film is adapted from a novel by the same name; a book that received vast acclaim. Trusting one of the most versatile directors of the past 15 years was a great choice, if not a shaky one. Linklater’s ability to hop around genres is unmatched by most anyone in cinema today; going from one of the most beloved modern romantic films in history, to a kaleidoscopic animated film to so many other types of film – the point being that this is his first periodic film. Mirroring the direction that the majority of films in the coded days had, Linklater molds the delightfully upbeat script into a moving image that is delightful for all ages: whether it be the teenagers of today or the elderly that loved early cinema when they were young; the film transcends age.
Though he does a grand job creating the right atmosphere, there are some faults with his overall direction of the film. For one, he overplays the significance of the romantic entanglement between Richard and Sonja. He makes it far too schmaltzy for most people’s liking and it detracts from the main focus of the film in the play. Actually come to think of it that is really his only major mistake in making the film. There are a few more missteps here and there, but nothing significant. This marks Linklater’s most pleasant film to date and certainly the one I cannot to watch again and again, despite the flaws the film has.Adapted for the screen by first time writers in the Palmo siblings (Holly Gent & Vincent Jr.) from the novel by Robert Kaplow wasn’t an easy task. For one, the novel was very coarse and risque in subject matter, whereas the Palmo’s felt this would appeal to a much wider audience if the crudeness was kept low-key. They also felt that the story would benefit from having a glossy feel; one that both mimics and mocks the cute innocence of early cinema. However, keeping these two restrictions in mind, the Palmo’s create one fantastic screenplay filled with love, laughs & lessons. As first time writers their efforts are (unusually) not for not. They worked tremendously on creating a lavished script and it paid off well in the end. One may want more grit – one may want more Orson Welles, but all-in-all this is a surefire crowdpleaser.
The story revolves around a young man, Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) who lives in the New York area. After coming home from school one day, he walks into a soda shop. The story picks up as a cute coincidence that Richard just happens to bump into a girl who is about the same age as him admiring the same novel as him. Being the charmer he is, he walks over to the piano and plays a nifty little tune that is sensational to the one girl. We then find out her name is Muriel (Kelly Reilly). With a brief introduction of young Richard’s musical genius, he and Muriel walk around town for a few minutes before opportunity knocks at Richard’s door. He is across the street from the Mercury Theater – a man is trying to play a drumroll but is failing miserably. Being the very confident man he is, Richard approaches this situation and executes a perfect drumroll. It just so happens that Orson Welles (Christian McKay) leaves the Mercury Theater at the time he hears this drumming. Being spontaneous, Welles immediately offers the young man a part in his production of Julius Caesar in a charming, humorous manner. It being: Orson: “Do you play the lute?”. And with that singular, anti-climatic line we’re off.
As the film progresses we get the feeling that Orson Welles is an edgy man; sometimes neurotic, sometimes fun-loving, but always conniving. The script thrives on making Orson Welles out to be a protagonist of a Dickie Greenleaf-esque proportion.Throughout the film Richard meets a “cold bitch” named Sonja (Claire Danes) who is Orson’s secretary of some sort. Richard works closely with Sonja and within moments of them being on the same screen together you already feel a warming passion flow through the two. This film is an excessively pleasant film through and through; whether it be the larger scope of it being a lovely told story about a (somewhat) inspiring story or it being a film that effectively uses early cinema icons in a comedic text – a stage frightened, timid, superstitious Joseph Cotten whose limited presence shines through, the film just nurtures every possible need.
The performances were nothing special (excluding the man I’m going to mention in a bit). Zac Efron was much better than I had anticipated going into the film. I know hes helmed films as the lead actor before, but with such a fragile concept in need of an adequate actor to fill the shoes of Richard Samuels I was worried Efron wouldn’t deliver. However, his acting chops are actually pretty great when it comes down to it. He had all the 30’s gestures (both physical and vocal) down pat, good execution on the key scenes and he just had that general enlightened aura about him in the role. I’m both surprised and glad to say that Efron was very good in this film. Everyone else was fine in their roles – Edie Marsan was very good in his role as the theater owner, Claire Danes was good as her role as the love interest & James Tupper was great in his small role as Joseph Cotten. In fact, I wish there was a bit more Cotten in the film so I could feel Tupper was used at least somewhat appropriately. However, however, however! Christian McKay made the cast. I mean, he made the film. His performance alone was worthy of a five minute standing ovation. His pin-point accuracy of Orson Welles is astonishing. The voice, the appearance, the raw emotion, the known Welles’ mannerisms – all perfect. Christian McKay was flawless. Absolutely perfect. Worthy of an Oscar? Worthy of ten. One of, if not, the finest performance(s) based on a real life person I’ve seen in the past decade. See it for McKay. [8/10]