Sunday, January 10, 2010

When Somewhat Bad is Pretty Good: We Go to the Orson Welles Movie

Orson Welles in 1937 (Age 21), photographed by...Image via Wikipedia

Two things: E., BPD and I went to see "Me and Orson Welles" at the Shattuck Cinemas last night.

The nominal star was someone named Zac Efron, who played the male ingenue. I knew he was some kind of teen star but had absolutely no idea why. Anyway, he's plays a kid who bluffs his way into a small role in Welles' 1937 production of Julius Caesar. Without spoiling the plot for you, let me just say that if you conclude that the kid actor is not a very good actor, the plot makes more sense and the resolution is more emotionally satisfying.

However, it seemed to me that Zac Efron is not a very good actor, which is not the same as a good actor playing "bad." But maybe a good actor playing "bad" is too subtle by half and can spoil the fantasy, particularly if the good/bad actor is familiar. Hey, we know you are a good actor! And thus we fail to accept the fiction as it is presented.

Of course, any way this played out was going to be dissonant, I guess, though maybe I was just working too hard. During the movie -- which I enjoyed and recommend -- I kept wondering just where Efron was trying to pitch his performance: Was he trying (and failing) to suggest that the kid was actually a pretty good actor, which would have made the ending rather sad? Or was ...?

I guess the short answer is where is a young Richard Dreyfuss when you need him? The great thing about Richard Dreyfuss is that he always both repulses and attracts, in roles and in person.

E. had no problem with Efron. She "read" his character as pleasant, open-hearted, likeable and -- in the acting scenes -- unformed, good enough in context because in Julius Caesar he has a very small part. In other words, he was just right, not all that interesting but fine in context because the nonstop hugeness of Orson Welles would probably have worn us out.

We all agreed that the guy who played Orson Welles -- Christian McKay? That's what the credits said -- was spectacular, capturing the inner Welles and well beyond imitation, BPD said.

Then we went to the bar at the Shattuck Hotel and had a drink. I can't honestly recommend the bar at the Shattuck hotel because E. wanted a grasshopper, which the bartender did not have the goods to make. We asked him what else he might suggest -- girl drink! girl drink! I kept saying -- and there was a long silence, as if he was stupefied by the question.

I mean, the silence did not end, not until I suggested a glass of port. (I should have thought Cosmo. My bad.)

Either the bartender was a great actor, playing with us as a cruel youth might do to tottering elders, or genuinely didn't have a clue.

The Day After: Rereading this post the day after -- and I do, marveling at the greatness that was Robertson Yesterday -- I realize that I omitted one other possibility for my judgment of Efron relative effectiveness. It could simply be miscasting. Everyone else in the cast has a Thirties New York face -- big features, often eccentric, even Claire Danes who really sometimes does look like a handsome man in drag. But Efron has smooth small pretty boy features. He just doesn't look like a citizen in this particular movie.

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