Earlier this year, Amy Adams whined her way through Julie & Julia as a modern-day food blogger, when all we really hungered for was more of Meryl Streep’s magically right Julia Child. So take the title of Me and Orson Welles as a slight warning. Yes, the Citizen Kane director figures prominently—and gloriously—in this 1937-set theatrical backstage drama. But in the spotlight, there’s a blandly eager high-schooler (Efron, unable to penetrate the cute), who’s conscripted into the zesty goings-on. Would someone please drag him offstage already? There’s a rising star in the wings.
Britain’s Christian McKay has already played Welles to great acclaim Off Broadway; his impersonation here is nothing short of astounding. Just to be totally clear, this is not the sprawling Mount Orson of the director’s latter years (or even of Touch of Evil). It’s the young phenom who terrorized the radio waves, tore around Manhattan in an ambulance and chased skirt on his way to Shakespearean glory. McKay effortlessly captures the man’s arrogance, sparring with tireless producer John Houseman (Happy-Go-Lucky’s fuming Marsan), but he’s even better with Welles’s sly invitation of a wink, drawing all to his bidding, happily. The voice is uncanny too.
Me and Orson Welles preoccupies itself with some romantic tussles—nice enough, but nothing on McKay’s dynamic moments of ego. Maybe this is a good time to mention that the director is Richard Linklater, usually a lot more versatile. Try to imagine a version of Linklater’s School of Rock that didn’t pivot on the manic music teacher played by Jack Black but instead, perhaps, on his boring roommate. That’s what you have here. Had Welles been in charge, there’d be no contest.—Joshua Rothkopf
Watch the trailer