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Me and Orson Welles (2009) -vs- My Favorite Year (1982)

Me and Orson Wells -vs- My Favorite Year

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

Given the long odds against success, everybody in show biz could use a mentor, somebody to teach them the ropes and send them on their way. In a perfect world those lessons are delivered with loving care and remembered fondly for a lifetime.

In the real world, they tend to be delivered in a way that leaves the mentee as dazed and confused by his/her collision with the mentor as you can imagine.

Either way, you learn, and we have two coming-of-age stories to drive the point home: 2009’s “Me and Orson Welles” versus 1982’s “My Favorite Year.”

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The Challenger

Based on Robert Kaplow’s novel of the same name, “Me and Orson Welles” tells the story of Richard Samuels, a 1937 vintage teenager who just happens to bump into Orson Welles a week before his ambitious Broadway debut playing Brutus in “Julius Caesar” at his soon-to-be-famous Mercury Theater. Welles, at the time, was only 22 himself (yet the English actor Christian McKay plays him as so much older in this film), but he was the boy genius and he uses Richard up and spits him out by the end. It’s a charmer, this film, and my wife Jackie and I saw it at the Director’s Guild screening in November with a terrific Q-and-A with its director who basically acknowledged that it’s a love letter to actors and the theater.

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The Defending Champion

“My Favorite Year” made a star out of Mark Linn-Baker (if you can call getting cast on his own sitcom, “Perfect Strangers,” as stardom). He plays budding comedy writer Benjy Stone who’s working on one of those ’50s comedy-variety shows when Hollywood legend Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) is booked. O’Toole got an Oscar nomination for his performance as Swann, a comic drunk of epic proportions who Benjy has to watch over and make sure is fit for air when the live show arrives. Adventures ensue. Horse rides through Central Park (see below), home meals with the parents, drunken reveries in hotel bathtubs, that kind of thing…

The Scorecard

The stars are reversed in these two films. In “Me and Orson Welles,” it’s teen sensation Zac Efron who is the star you’ve heard of, playing Richard, and Christian McKay, an actor you’ve never heard of, playing Welles (and getting lots of award attention so far this year). In “My Favorite Year,” it was unknown Mark Linn-Baker playing the young kid and huge star Peter O’Toole playing the liquored up superstar actor. Quickly now, the highlights: Zac Efron’s good looks and talent at singing and dancing should not be held against him; he does not suck at all as an actor, in fact, he’s excellent, almost as good as McKay who is a revelation as the cruel game-playing Welles and the equally wonderful Claire Danes; but O’Toole did get that Oscar nom and Linn-Baker did get that sitcom so they were pretty good, too.

The tone of “My Favorite Year” is broadly comedic, slightly sillier than a Neil Simon play. “Me and Orson Welles,” in contrast, feels like heightened reality, a window into the world of New York theater in those last years before World War II.

The real difference is the direction. Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) simply directs the hell out of “Me and Orson Welles,” giving it a look and feel of authenticity, importance and cool while Richard Benjamin’s work on “My Favorite Year” is static, over-lit and generally not-that-good.

The Decision

A great plan would be to re-make “My Favorite Year” with Richard Linklater directing. Until they do that, though, Linklater’s latest effort is going to take the championship belt away from that ’80s film which is funny in spurts, engaging occasionally, but doesn’t hold up to modern sensibilities. “Me and Orson Welles” is the winner now and if you check out the film in a quarter century, it’s still going to hold up nicely. Everyone I know who’s seen it so far thought it was fun and kind of sweet and — for me — it’s the winner by knock-out in this Smackdown. If you miss it in the theaters, rent the DVD. You won’t be sorry.

About Bryce Zabel 196 Articles
Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, creator of five produced primetime network TV series, and fast-food frycook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of "Movie Smackdown." While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. That, plus the fact that he has a new StudioCanal produced feature film, “The Last Battle,” shooting this summer in Europe about the end of World War II. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and a past enthusiast of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. His new what-if book series, “Breakpoint,” just won the prestigious Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and has so far tackled JFK not being assassinated and The Beatles staying together.
Contact: Website

2 Comments on Me and Orson Welles (2009) -vs- My Favorite Year (1982)

  1. Since writing this, I’ve run into a couple of people who insist that “My Favorite Year” is a masterpiece. I ask them when the last time they saw it was. It just hasn’t dated well. Plus, as we both agree, “Me and Orson Welles” is a great film!

  2. Loved Me and Orson Welles. The perfect film. So much fun. So sweet. No contest… Christian McKay is spot-on terrific, and so are Zac Efron and Claire Danes, virtually the only Americans in a mostly British cast. Don’t miss it.

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