Richard (Efron) is a 17-year-old wannabe in 1937 New York, determined to get into the groundbreaking Mercury Theatre company run by 22-year-old genius Orson Welles (McKay). When he stumbles into a role in their landmark production of Julius Caesar, Richard can't believe his luck. He's working alongside such ascending stars as George Coulouris (Chaplin), John Houseman (Marsan), Muriel Brassler (Reilly), Jopseph Cotton (Tupper) and Norman Lloyd (Bill). And he feels even more fortunate when Orson's hard-to-get assistant Sonja (Danes) agrees to go out with him.
Linklater takes a strangely stiff approach to the filmmaking, with a jazzy Woody Allen-like underscore trying to build a jaunty tone as the story drifts along. Fortunately, there's life in the dialog, and as the characters begin to emerge they pull us into the events while adding a strong zing of wit. And the film itself becomes a fascinating look not only at Welles' early career but also the backstage workings of a theatre company.
Most intriguing is the insight into how actors hide in their characters and create art with (or despite) their director. Clearly, the film's cast enjoyed the challenge of creating these layers: playing historical people who are playing Shakespearean characters under the leadership of the mercurial Welles.
Within this they bring out lively personalities and extremely entertaining interaction. Efron is our entry point into this world, and he gives a strong, likeable performance even when Richard gets annoyingly petulant, forgetting how inexperienced he is both on stage and in love.
But it's McKay who provides the electricity. He might be too old (he looks 30 rather than 22) but he gets Welles so perfectly that it takes the breath away.
We understand why everyone hangs on Welles' every word and lets him indulge in grandstanding improvisation. We believe this is a man who will change radio, theatre and film forever. And watching him through Richard's naive eyes is great fun, even if the film can't live up to Welles' genius.
Run time: 114 mins
In Theaters: Friday 4th December 2009
Box Office USA: $1.1M
Distributed by: Freestyle Releasing
Production compaines: Freestyle Releasing, CinemaNX, Isle of Man Film
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 130 Rotten: 23
IMDB: 6.8 / 10
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenwriter: Holly Gent Palmo, Vincent Palmo Jr
Starring: Ben Chaplin as George Coulouris, Claire Danes as Sonja Jones, Zac Efron as Richard Samuels, Zoe Kazan as Gretta Alder, Christian McKay as Orson Welles, Patrick Kennedy as Grover Burgess, James Tupper as Joseph Cotten, Imogen Poots as Lorelei Lathrop