ME AND ORSON WELLES ****
You would hardly pick Richard Linklater (Slacker, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly) to direct an old-fashioned period piece, but he’s done it, and in monumental style. There has been no great Orson Welles biopic yet (which is surprising – his life has the rise and fall of any rock star who’s gained a biopic and then some) and this isn’t that film: it highly specifically targets the period of Welles’ rehearsal of his seminal 1937 modern-dress production of Julius Caesar with his Mercury Theatre in New York, and indeed, sidelines him to the third lead: our “in” into this story is a young man (Zach Effron, surprisingly excellent) who almost accidentally gets involved with the production, and with the Mercury’s stage manager, played by Claire Danes. But while this little backstage romance gives the film a throughline, it is Welles that must inevitably dominate, and, as played by British actor Christian McKay, dominate he most surely does. McKay is unbelievably terrific in this role, bringing you the Orson Welles you always dreamed of. The period authenticity is first-rate, not only in the production design, the sets, the costumes, the makeup, but also in the style of acting that Welles and his company used in 1937, the method of rehearsing, the patterns of speech. (I was and remain a massive Welles buff and for awhile read every single biography that appeared about him, and during my major fixation these seemed to come about one every three years, culminating in Simon Callow’s masterful portrait). Full of humour, heart and the absolute joy of creation, you would really have to be repelled by fedoras, theatres or big personalities to dislike this tremendously enjoyable film.
Noah Baumbach’s über-naturalistic portrait of a forty year old man emerging from an early mid-life crisis is an acting feast for Ben Stiller and the remarkably natural (and beautiful) Greta Gerwig, none of whose previous features have seen theatrical distribution in Australia. Their tentative steps towards a relationship make for awkward, sometimes painful viewing, and may not appeal to those audience members who cannot closely and personally relate to the crutches they bare. I found their dilemmas involving, and the slow pacing and moody atmosphere of the film close to mesmerising, but there is no denying that the film is a curio of sorts and cannot possibly bear the weight of its advertising campaign, which presents it as a comedy (it is not) and as mass-market friendly (it is absolutely not). You will want to know what you’re in for here, and be in the right head-space: the music, the low-key performances and the casual and easy-going depiction of everyday, hazy Los Angeles life amongst the servant-hiring set and those who stand outside looking at it may be infuriating to a Friday-night viewer hopped up on Coke and popcorn. I admired the movie’s honesty and integrity greatly, but can see that I’m just the right age (and, probably, gender) to appreciate it. I might have hated it if I was twenty-four, or fifty-nine. It’s existence is lovely (it could never have been green-lit as a hugely expensive studio film and it indeed wears its modesty on its sleeve) but it’s hardly of the zeitgeist: Greenberg’s problems are not so much specific to our time but of the times, and whether you enjoy his journey will depend pretty much directly on your own.