The gulf between movie hits and flops is wider than ever these days.
The other night at a local multiplex large crowds were pouring into one of the auditoriums featuring the 3D blockbuster “Avatar” while “Me and Orson Welles” played to an audience of three (me and my two companions — a fellow reviewer and a young filmmaker).
There is no good reason for Richard Linklater’s charming bio-pic to be one of the year’s most notable failures. It’s a very entertaining look back at Orson Welles as he was preparing his legendary modern-dress stage production of “Julius Caesar,” with a fantastic performance by Christian McKay (above) as the genius director a few years before he made movie history with “Citizen Kane” (1941).
The “me” in the movie — a high school drama student who lucks into a small role in “Julius Caesar” — is played by teen fave Zac Efron (below), who is very good in the movie.
The casting of Efron as Richard Samuels might be one of those seemingly smart commercial moves that end up backfiring on the producers of a film.
The hip art house crowd that loved earlier Linklater films such as “Slacker” (1991) and “Dazed and Confused” (1993) would probably be put off by any film featuring the star of the Disney “High School Musical” series.
And, Efron’s teen girl following must have figured out in advance that this was a 1930s period piece in which Efron did not dance and sing. Efron is clearly a fine young actor but it might take him a few more years to break out of his teen idol straitjacket (remember how long it took Tom Hanks to move beyond “Bosom Buddies”?)
“Me and Orson Welles” has been well reviewed in most quarters — and there is a very slim chance that the acting branch of the Motion Picture Academy might nominate McKay in the supporting actor division — but it took more than a year for the movie to be picked up for theatrical distribution.
Linklater and the cast appeared at a Toronto Film Festival premiere in 2008 where none of the major studio art house subsidiaries expressed any interest in the picture (a shocking event considering the subject matter and Linklater’s status within the independent film movement).
“Me and Orson Welles” will, no doubt, be gone from most U.S. theaters before the new year begins, but it is definitely worth seeking out before it vanishes into a DVD limbo.