Words: J. Wood
With the San Fernando Valley set DJ drama We Are Your Friends coming out on this week I take a look at the best performances of its leading man Zac Efron. Having emerged from the High School Musical franchise, Zac Efron’s efforts to craft a more varied career are often rather sniffily looked upon by critics. Although quite a few of his earlier roles did play somewhat into the hands of the teenage fan girls that supported his big franchise, with the tedious Nicholas Sparks adaptations a particular bore, but look a little closer and Efron is actually an engaging screen presence in a host of interesting films.
5: Bad Neighbours (2014)
Having tried a more adult comedy with the uninspiring That Awkward Moment earlier in 2014, Efron hit home as the brash, obnoxious frat-boy who terrorises Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne’s new parents. Without Efron the film’s sub-Animal House debauchery would be nowhere near as funny, but Efron here exudes a certain cockiness that makes his character almost likeable. Although his screen time is more limited than Rogen’s, and he all too often finds himself sharing scenes with less inspiring performances from the likes of Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Craig Roberts, yet rises above them memorably. There is a sequel coming out that I have next to no hopes for, but my expectation is that Efron will once again relish his role, will be awarded more screen time and will be the best thing about the film.
4: Me and Orson Welles (2009)
This was really Efron’s first proper attempt to distance himself from his Disney roots as a star struck young actor corralled into Orson Welles’ now legendary take on Julius Caesar. Directed by Richard Linklater, a director known to have a very well-tuned casting radar, Efron’s performance here can be described as a well-intentioned failure, but by no means one without merit. The film trades on Efron’s matinee good looks that pitch him more into the court of movie stars of old than today, and he seems perfectly at home in the world of the film, but less so in the role. His character’s main romantic interest flounders when he struggles to garner any chemistry with the much too old Claire Danes, while he, and everyone else, are washed away by the tidal wave that is Christian McKay’s majestic performance as Orson Welles. Upon rewatching this film recently I realised that at the time I was too harsh on Efron, who does very well with what he is given, but what he is given is unable to stand up to what’s around him, and despite it all he is still a very likeable screen presence here.
3: Parkland (2013)
Appearing in another film that would quite happily fall into the ‘honourable misfire’ category, Efron starred as Jim Carrico, the young doctor unexpectedly charged with trying to save JFK’s life on that fateful November day in 1963. The film is an ensemble piece, trying to tell the stories of all those who were directly affected by the President’s assassination, but never quite manages to get to grips with the ensemble nature of its story. Efron though comes out of the film with his head held high, having been one of the few actors whose performance left a lasting impact on me, alongside the ever reliable Paul Giamatti and James Badge Dale. It was nice to see Efron take on a role with more dramatic heft, more real world grounding, and one when he had to play an actual human being not somebody residing in the body of a teen heartthrob. There are scenes in this film where Efron really shows himself to be capable of a wider range than previously assumed, a range that sadly has not been explored again thus far. This is the role that convinced me that he was not a flash in the pan but had a serious career ahead as an actor.
2: Liberal Arts (2012)
Without a doubt one of the five best films of the decade thus far, and certainly the most overlooked, Josh Radnor’s sweet comedy/romance/drama plays as a beautiful paean to the joys of college, nostalgia and youth, and offers Efron a chance to really have fun in a small, out there role. Although he probably only appears on screen for a maximum of five to ten minutes he is very good in that limited time, doing the near impossible of being an integral part of the movie while at the same time appearing to be in a completely different film. He acts as a conscience/shamanic guide to Radnor’s lead, offering him worldly words of wisdom one minute while leading him to parties the next. In truth he is just a typical platitudinous student who has probably taken too many drugs, but he is very entertaining despite that.
1: The Paperboy (2013)
I doubt that this movie will ever live down its reputation as the movie where Nicole Kidman pisses on Zac Efron or as part of the ‘McConaughaissance’ but it is for me a very good movie that contains Efron’s best performance to date. Underneath all the surface Efron gives a very fine account of himself as the naïve younger brother of an intrepid reporter thrust into a dangerous case and dangerous circles in this sweat drenched Southern noir. Efron’s convincing performance is all the more impressive given that he has to (relatively) underplay things amidst a supporting cast that is really turning things up to 11, from fantastic efforts from McConaughey and a chilling Oyelowo, John Cusack’s dangerous killer and Kidman as you have never seen her before. Many actors would struggle to emerge with notice when asked to effectively play the straight role but Efron passes the test with flying colours and, although he may not be the first thing you think of when discussing The Paperboy, his performance does not fall down in the face of more exuberant competition, as it did in Me And Orson Welles.
Check out last week’s Friday High 5 all about the wonderful world of High School Movies >>>