Me and Orson Welles

Me and Orson Welles, written by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo Jr., based on the novel by Robert Kaplow, starring Zac Efron, Clare Danes, Christian McKay and Zoe Kazan (2008): Having graduated from high school musicals, Zac Efron does solid work here as a high school student who manages to get himself cast in the career-making staging of Julius Caesar by Orson Welles and the Mercury Players in 1937 New York.

Christian McKay makes a convincing Welles, ego and talent and all, and Danes provides a light romantic touch as the troupe’s assistant manager. Efron’s character is complete fiction, but much of the events here are real, or at least reality-based: Welles’s drastically shortened Caesar, performed in modern, Italian-fascist costumes, did indeed help take the young impresario’s reputation to the next level.

And Welles was young — in his early 20’s — and talented and something of a dick. Nonetheless, he inspired great loyalty among many of his actors, and we see that at work here, along with his genius, his manipulativeness, and his glory-hogging ways. Really, we only miss seeing Welles’s famous appetite for food and drink, which would ultimately make him the gigantic, tragic figure of 1970’s Gallo wine commercials and talk-show-host jokes about his mighty girth, but never about his mightier talent..

The rest of the cast does yeoman’s work embodying the mostly real members of Welles’s troupe on the cusp on stardom, of War of the Worlds, of Citizen Kane, and so on. One can see how Welles came to make Citizen Kane (for which he took too much creative credit), but also how he alienated the studios, leading to the tragically re-edited Magnificent Ambersons (still a great work in bowdlerized form) and decades of scrambling to make movies without much funding while taking well-paying roles in other people’s movies (none more towering than Welles’s Harry Lime in Carroll Reed’s The Third Man, opposite his old Mercury pal Joseph Cotten). Highly recommended.

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