Based on the book by Robert Kaplow, Me And Orson Welles is a charming period piece boasting a freshness and spark that stops it from being caught in the past and gives it a decidedly modern air.
This isn’t to say director Richard Linklater hasn’t caught the spirit of Broadway, New York City, 1937, because he has (in a production with a decidedly sepia tone), but the issues it deals with – ‘artistic’ egos, professional rivalries, falling outs, tangled love affairs and growing pains – are so universal, nothing about the film seems dated.
The story is based around the production of Julius Caesar the young Orson Welles (Christian McKay) took to the Mercury Theater on Broadway in 1937. The fictional bit is the introduction of a young student, Richard (Zac Efron) who blags his way into an actual speaking part in the play. For Richard this is a dream come true as he watches Welles’ rag-tag troupe of thesps as they bitch, bark and clash over their lines, positions on stage, and in the case of leading lady Muriel (a wonderfully judged comic role from Kelly Reilly), her costume and the way the spotlight falls on her face.
But Richard isn’t interested in Muriel, he is besotted with modern single girl Sonja (Claire Danes), an aspiring actress and the company’s overworked jack of all trades.
While Sonja helps Richard with his lines (along with more personal matters) the company is losing a spirited battle against time with opening night looming, the actors ill-prepared and the theatre in a state of disarray. Will the larger than life Orson Welles allow his ego to get in the way? Or will it really be alright on the night?
With a supporting cast of thesps that can whinge and whine with the best of them (Ben Chaplin as leading man Mark Anthony and Eddie Marsan as impresario John Houseman simply breeze joyfully through the movie) Me And Orson Welles takes off at a crisp trot and never lets up the pace until its triumphant climax.
Although the burgeoning affair between Richard and Sonja is ostensibly at the core of the movie, it simply gets overtaken by the theatricality of proceedings. Anyone who has ever been involved with putting on a stage production will revel in the dramas (both real and perceived) Orson Welles’ cast thrives on as they lurch from one mini crisis (Orson sacking certain members) to another (a major flood in the theatre).
However, it is Christian McKay perfectly encapsulating the great man’s ego that is the most fun here. McKay is a fantastic actor (his ad libbing in the middle of a live radio performance is a joy to behold), let’s just hope he doesn’t get stuck with impersonating Orson Welles for the rest of his career.