I am, at once, a complete sucker for this movie and potentially its severest critic. On the one hand, I am fascinated by the career of Orson Welles, and have read a great deal about (and interviewed people involved with) his tumultuous life in New York during the late 1930s. Not yet a household name, he juggled a burgeoning theatrical agenda with his…
Mercury Players and a busy schedule acting on radio – which paid the bills. But because I’m so familiar with the territory and its principal players, I’m going to be fairly demanding of a film that attempts to dramatize that period and its colorful cast of characters.
Yes, I was aware that little of it was shot in Manhattan and that there are no New York actors in its cast…but if that requires a certain leap of faith, Linklater and company amply reward us by being so persuasive in their portrayal of Welles himself and the zeitgeist of his eternally harried theatrical troupe (and its frequently exasperated producer, John Houseman, nicely played by the versatile Eddie Marsan). I can’t think of many films that capture both the spirit and the detail of putting on a show, under great pressure, as this one does, tracing the fabled Mercury production of Julius Caesar in 1937. This one makes us feel as if we’re actually there.
Teen heartthrob Zac Efron proves his mettle in the pivotal role of an artistic-minded high school student who stumbles into a job with Welles and gets caught up in the whirlwind of the enterprise-and the mercurial (pun intended) orbit of the Boy Genius. Claire Danes is appealing as the company Girl Friday who wins his heart, and leads him into an experience beyond his youthful understanding.
Then there is newcomer Christian McKay, who gives an absolutely astonishing performance as the young Orson Welles. This goes far beyond mere mimicry; it’s a full-bodied evocation of the charming, bombastic, grandiloquent, unscrupulous, ego-driven actor-director. As written by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr. from Robert Kaplow’s novel, Me and Orson Welles provides a vastly entertaining time trip, and a close-up look at one of the most interesting figures in all of show business history.