Okay, now that the picture IS history, I think, just another word or two about ME AND ORSON WELLES: I have no real disagreement with the additional points either of you make, Roger and Alan.
I just reason what is obvious now. The approach which the makers of ME AND ORSON WELLES took was both bad business and bad art. The film's basic commercial problem was that audiences, on a whole, had no reason other than the presence of Zac Efron to see this exploration of "life on the wicked, wicked stage." The novel had decent sales, but it was not one of the most sought after youth novels of the last decade. Shakespeare is generally box office poison, and the 1937 Mercury Julius Caesar has faded into theatrical history for Americans today, if they were ever aware of it. And so, we are left with the "word of mouth" that Zac Efron did okay but wasn't allowed to sing or dance much, nor did he really dominate the picture. The new guy nobody ever heard of, Christian McKay, the actor playing this Orson Welles character, stole the picture, in both the hearts and minds of critics and ordinary theater goers alike. (I'm speaking now of the latter who actually saw ME AND ORSON WELLES.) But, in the picture, after a big build up, and a lot of power and charm from this McKay fellow, "Orson Welles" turned out to be not only a jerk but a cruel, vindictive, cowardly jerk, at that!
[If Welles' "kiss off" had been handled less archly, as you suggest, Alan, it would not have left such a bad taste. It appears to have been determined by the Director's whim to stage an homage to THE THIRD MAN, a precious touch which I noticed only on a second viewing, one which only a minority of viewers would get at all. And I agree with you, Roger, that both Cotten and Lloyd were misused historically and dramatically.]
And so, the young picture-going audience who turned out was left with several mixed messages. There was this guy, who later got fat and did wine commercials, who once put on a play in New York, and he was really a bum of the first order. A stereotype is reinforced. And then, if you are young: Don't trust older people (even those ancients five years older than yourself). And, oh yeah, don't take chances! Maybe you could get that girl in the music store without all the public humiliation of being dumped by these snooty Mercury Theater people. It's not what you can do, it's who you know. In the words of that nasty bit of wisdom from my own youth, thinking of Claire Danes' character, "It's not [even] who you know but who you . . . ." Much better to play it safe. If you really "try to do something" -- not sure what -- you still get old and fat, and have to do drunken wine commercials!
Put to one side the atrocious ending which left Welles without a curtain line, and Zac Efron's character without any clear or realistic future, the picture's artistic problem is that it had to make us feel the importance of the effort to stage Julius Caesar enough to enthrall the characters and ordinary joes like most of us. It did not. Such failures, of course, are not limited to little indie films with budgets of under a paltry fifteen million. Take the example of NINE, costing the Weinsteins upwards of $85,000,000. That fiilm, which I saw by accident Monday afternoon (and liked better than the critics), has the very same problem. Today's mass audiences have little knowledge of, or respect for, supreme Cinema Maestro Federico Fellini, who -- unlike Welles -- died pretty much at the top of his acclaim. Many filmgoers will not know who Fellini is. For all the razzmatazz and dazzling musical numbers (which do a fair job of illustrating Fellini's accomplishments, without laboriously identifying them), a person in Elkhart, Indiana, is still being asked to see a film set in the 1960's, in a foreign culture filled with excess, and identify with, indeed empathize with, a self-indulgent, neurotic, wife-cheating, woman-chasing, fabulist director named Guido Contini, who is trying to make some kind of Italian movie. Daniel Day-Lewis, thought to be among the handful of great movie actors of the World, assisted by six or seven of the great beauties and finest actresses of International Cinema, could not bring it off for critics or audiences in 1,900 theaters nationwide last weekend. [The venues are being cut immediately to 900.]
For the record, Christian McKay and his little band do a much better job with their fifteen million. So, the producers of ME AND ORSON WELLES will lose only five million. The Weinsteins, even if they engineer an Oscar Nomination, will probably lose 40 million. The problem is that, in both cases, backers will be less likely to take a chance on such an artistic project, in future. But the Weinsteins probably can come up with another 85 million, if they need it!
Clearly, to me, the director and writers of ME AND ORSON WELLES, following their own message, played it safe. My oft expressed point, repeated to much, I know, is that they might, within their modest budget, have created a Great Film, something that NINE, given its mixed elements, could never have been.. The creators of ME AND ORSON WELLES settled for a modest profit, which they may not get. They, too, will probably grow old and fat, and have to do god knows what.
We are left with ME AND JULIET, a nice little picture, like scores of other nice little pictures released this year.