Me and Orson Welles: Zac Efron Holds His Own in a Very Enjoyable Backstage Tale

Orson Welles lives on not only in posthumously restored director's cuts of his movies but as a character in other people's novels, plays, and films—notably Richard Linklater's deft, affectionate, and unexpectedly enjoyable Me and Orson Welles. Adapted from the novel by Robert Kaplow, Linklater's movie concerns Welles' legendary 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar—the 22-year-old director's personal triumph. Linklater views Welles' achievement from the perspective of a high-school student (Zac Efron). Dubbed "Junior," the lad brazens his way into a minor part as Brutus' lute-strumming page a week before the play is set to open. "You're not getting anything except the opportunity to be sprayed by Orson's spit," Welles' assistant (Claire Danes) good-naturedly warns him. Actually, the callow but competent Junior gets away with quite a bit (up to a point) even as he learns something about performing and human nature—or at least about the nature of Orson Welles. So do we, thanks to a rich—bordering on plummy—performance by British actor Christian McKay, who nails Welles' ironic twinkle and assured, mocking self-importance. For all its virtues, Me and Orson Welles is not perfect. The thrifty period mise-en-scène is oversaturated with '30s popular music, and the screenplay gives only a perfunctory sense of the era's Popular Front politics. But percolating with backstage banter and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, it's a spirited, confident, even edifying piece of work.

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