IT IS 1937, a week before opening night, the mood is cheery yet apprehensive as potential war looms over continental Europe and Great Britain.
Under the bright lights and broken beams at Broadway’s Mercury Theatre, young Richard Samuels (Zac Efron) talks himself into a small role in the play Orson Welles (Christian McKay) is staging, a modern rendition of Julius Caesar.
He then falls in love with the beautiful, ambitious and older Sonja (Claire Danes), and gets a first-class lesson in the harsh reality of stage life.
Romantic and idealistic, Samuels can’t help but get swept up in Welles’s locomotion, as does everyone else. Actors wait on stage while he does a radio play, charms a production assistant, and forgets to return. Yet they forgive him time and again, because they believe in his brilliance.
But as with diamonds, his brilliance is a polished exterior that hides dark dirty beginnings. And with this play-within-a-play, director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, School of Rock) tries to capture the essence of the very question that plagues humanity: Who am I? And who will I become?
It is a coming-of-age story not only for Samuels, but for Welles as well, who both seek validation, and above all, love. Both yearn to be seen and heard, but the latter can only find love and adoration from his fellow men behind a façade that never fades. He is the consummate actor, cursed by his own myth-making.
Thankfully the movie, based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, manages to temper the poignancy with humour, although at times you wonder where it is truly headed, meandering between Richard’s journey of discovery and the crazy joyride that is showbiz.
But the ensemble cast including Ben Chaplin as the English actor George Coulouris and James Tupper (Men in Trees) as the inimitable Joseph Cotton do well in supporting this retelling of theatrical history.
Efron as a headline act is nothing new – you’d have to be unconscious to have missed the meteoric rise of Disney’s reigning king in the High School Musical franchise.
Starring for the first time in an indie film, he acquits himself nicely – his character is impetuous and charming, though not a far stretch for him as an actor.
The breakout star in the show is really Christian McKay.
McKay’s version of Orson Welles is young, egomaniacal, caught up in his own hubris. He is belligerent, flirtatious and enigmatic, sucking Richard Samuels into the vortex of New York’s theatre scene.
Much like the man himself, this Welles is larger than life, leaving the “Me” in the title as simply a mere afterthought.
Me and Orson Welles opens nationwide in theatres July 29.