‘Me and Orson’ relives theatrical troupe
> Film views Welles’ budding genius and his Mercury Theatre
The most entertaining movie opening this Christmas weekend is only at Malco’s Ridgeway Four. “Me and Orson Welles” is set on Broadway in 1937, as the confident but not yet world-famous Welles (played with convincing boyish charm and egomaniacal bluster by Christian McKay) prepares to open his Mercury Theatre with an innovative production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” reimagined in Fascist drag. The “me” of the title is Richard Samuels, a 17-year-old high school student who lucks his way into the minor role of Lucius, a lute-strumming servant. Richard is played by former Disney Channel hearthrob Zac Efron, whose hooded eyes add an element of Dorian Gray decadence to his pretty-boy pinup features.
As Richard becomes enamored of his, um, mercurial new “family,” he falls for smart, independent Sonja Jones (Claire Danes), assistant to theater manager John Houseman (Eddie Marsan). Houseman and Welles aren’t the only familiar names among the cast of characters; other Mercury players who later found fame or at least work in the movies include Joseph Cotten (James Tupper), still-alive-andkicking-at-95 Norman Lloyd (Leo Bill) and George Colouris (Ben Chaplin), who was unforgettable as “Mr. Thatcher” when Welles made the leap to movies with “Citizen Kane.”
“Me and Orson Welles” is a rare period piece for Richard Linklater, probably the most inventive, versatile and prolific American director now working, with the exception of Steven Soderbergh. Linklater’s films range from the Jack Black hijinks of “School of Rock” to the rotoscoped sci-fi social commentary of “A Scanner Darkly” to the real-time romance of “Before Sunset,” but “Orson Welles” may remind fans of his coming-of-age cult classic “Dazed and Confused” (1993), in which an impressionable teenager named Mitch hangs with a crew of high school show-offs, beauties and hangers-on that’s almost as theatrical as the troupe at the Mercury.
“Me and Orson Welles” is a tribute to the theatrical life (Linklater re-creates significant moments from Welles’ “Caesar,” and also shows us the live broadcast of a radio drama) and to the transformative power of art — not just for the audience (which gives “Caesar” a standing ovation) but especially for the artists who make it. Much is made of the notion that art can make a person immortal, at least in the minds of those who appreciate the art. Welles — who has a pregnant wife, and the pick of the women in the theater — says acting enables him to escape the nonartist self that he hates; he believes his art will make history. Richard and a would-be writer (Zoe Kazan) contemplate a Grecian urn at a museum, and think about Keats’ poem, which also is a meditation on art; they discuss great songwriters, and mourn the recent passing of George Gershwin. But “Me and Orson Welles” is anything but mournful; it’s celebratory and inspiring.
Orson Welles (Christian McKay) and Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) star in the period film “Me and Orson Welles.”