Me & Orson Welles, director Richard Linklater’s tautly focused valentine to the famous writer/actor/director, is a fine film that could be better, but is more or less blessed and cursed by the Orson factor. To the point, the clear star of this intriguing but wobbly film is its Orson Welles, played with great charm, swagger, and monomaniacal glee by British stage actor Christian McKay (who also bears uncanny resemblance to Welles, in word and appearance). He is the reason to see the film.
While the title specifically refers to the point of view of a perky high school kid hired, on short notice, for a bit part in the legendary N.Y.C. production of Julius Caesar by Welles’s Mercury Theatre, the “me” in question must also reflect on Linklater’s own long-distance relationship to Welles. Unfortunately, the “me” in the film’s narrative equation, Zac Efron, is out of his acting depth in the project, overshadowed by McKay and his sometime/would-be lover, played by Claire Danes. Too many scenes in the film proceed limply, although Linklater manages to conjure up a rare atmospheric behind-the-scenes field report from the realm of theater, with its agonies, ecstasies, raging egos, and infectious ensemble zeal.
Almost as an incidental-yet also looming-footnote, the film inspires Welles-ian awe and reminds us of the director’s brilliant and meteoric career. He was a mere 22 years old at the time of the Mercury Theatre phenom, and was only 26 when he painted his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, which also, infamously and ironically, tarnished his future potential in the American movie kingdom. Me and Orson Welles could have used a few Welles-ian touches to save it from : itself.