Richard Linklater’s lighthearted rendering of an imagined relationship between Orson Welles and a young would-be actor during Welles' famed 1937 New York production of Julius Caesar soars whenever Christian McKay takes the screen (as the great maestro). But the film backslides whenever McKay is absent, largely due to a severe case of miscasting.
Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a young bit actor chosen for his professed ability to play the ukulele. With his High School Musical haircut and phony charm intact, the ever-smug Efron isn't equipped for the duality of qualities required for what should have been a fairly complex character.
Claire Danes adds her own brand of off-key accomplishment as Sonja Jones, a personal assistant to Welles, whose “ice queen” status provides the Mercury Theater's male populace with unwarranted lustful thoughts.
Linklater does a nice job of capturing the vibrancy of Welles when he worked in public theater but fails to underpin the material's Depression-era setting. The filmmakers would have done better to make a film called Orson Welles at the Mercury, and construct it around McKay's impeccable interpretation of the man he played on the New York stage in Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles. Grade: C
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