Presented with a movie called Me and Orson Welles, one can’t help but immediately wonder who “me” might be. Joseph Cotten? John Houseman? Paul Masson? Alas, in this case it turns out to be a snot-nosed kid named Richard, played by Zac Efron at his twinkliest. Set in 1937, when Welles—just 21 himself, and not yet a filmmaker—was rehearsing the Mercury Theatre’s legendary fascist-inflected production of Julius Caesar, this adaptation of Robert Kaplow’s novel focuses not on the great man but on poor hustling Richard, who happens by the Mercury one day and gets drafted to play the small role of Lucius. Needless to say, he gets a crash course not just in stagecraft but also in the care and feeding of titanic egos, especially when he develops a crush on the comely assistant (Danes) with whom Welles is having a casual affair.
Without looking at the credits, you’d never guess that this trifling period piece was directed by Richard Linklater, as it boasts neither the intimacy of a Before Sunset nor the manic energy of a School of Rock. Indeed, the whole movie is little more than an exercise in imaginative nostalgia, and the only real reason to see it is to enjoy British actor Christian McKay’s uncanny Welles impersonation—he gets the young Welles’ amused imperiousness exactly right, both in the timbre of his voice and in that single cocked eyebrow. Every time McKay leaves the screen, the movie immediately wilts. Orson Welles and who?