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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: November 23, 2009 09:10 AM

Movie review: Me and Orson Welles

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Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is pure delight, a backstage story set in a romantic period built around a magically charismatic character.

It's also the movie that proves that Zac Efron is a real actor, not just a teen star with a solid singing voice and a dazzling smile. As the 'Me' in the title, he holds his own against the dashing figure of Orson Welles. And this is Welles near the peak of his youthful genius, played with eerie proximity and great humor by newcomer Christian McKay, in what may be the year's most auspicious film debut.

Set in 1937, Me and Orson Welles features Efron as Richard, a theater-struck high-school student who spends his after-school hours roaming the music stores and theatrical marquees of Manhattan. His rambling brings him to the front of the Mercury Theater, Welles' fledgling troupe, as the actors gather on the sidewalk to see its sign lit for the first time.

Richard quickly ingratiates himself with Welles and winds up cast in a small role in Welles' imminent production of Julius Caesar, after lying about his ability to play the ukulele. Suddenly he's in a Broadway show, taken under the wing of the company manager, Sonja (Claire Danes) and the new favorite of the mercurial, blustering and seductive Welles.

Based on a novel by Robert Kaplow, Me and Orson Welles is about heroes, genius, innocence, growing up and, of course, the theater. As played by Efron, Richard is confident and nervy, too young to know better about some things, but a fast learner - a kindred spirit in whom Welles may see a younger version of himself. Richard has the resilience of youth and can absorb the lessons Welles teaches him without taking the accompanying insults personally. Continued...

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