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Me and Orson Welles 

Wednesday, Dec 9 2009
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Orson Welles lives on not only in posthumously restored director's cuts of his movies but as a character in other people’s novels, plays, and films—notably Richard Linklater's deft, affectionate, and unexpectedly enjoyable Me and Orson Welles. Adapted from a novel by high school English teacher Robert Kaplow, Linklater's movie concerns Welles's legendary 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar—the 22-year-old director’s personal triumph. Linklater views Welles's achievement from the perspective of a high school student (Zac Efron). Dubbed "Junior," the lad brazens his way into a minor part as Brutus's lute-strumming page, a week before the play is set to open. "You’re not getting anything except the opportunity to be sprayed by Orson's spit," Welles's assistant (Claire Danes) good-naturedly warns him. Actually, the callow but competent Junior gets away with quite a bit (up to a point) even as he learns something about performing and human nature—or at least about the nature of Orson Welles. So do we, thanks to a rich—bordering on plummy—performance by British actor Christian McKay, who nails Welles's ironic twinkle and assured, mocking self-importance. For all of its virtues, Me and Orson Welles is not perfect. The thrifty period mise-en-scene is oversaturated with '30s popular music and the screenplay gives only a perfunctory sense of the era's Popular Front politics. But, percolating with backstage banter and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, it is a spirited, confident, and even edifying piece of work.
Starts: Dec. 11. Daily, 2009

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J. Hoberman

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