Me and Orson Welles

Rated 4.0

Ends Thursday, Jan. 7. The latest from Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, School of Rock) is a smart, frisky backstage show-biz yarn with very lively bits of biopic and period piece mixed in. It’s 1937 in New York City and Orson Welles, already a swaggering tyro at age 22, is getting the Mercury Theatre players ready for his daring modern-dress production of Julius Caesar. The “me” of the title is a starry-eyed high school kid named Richard (Zac Efron) who maneuvers his way into a small role in Welles’ new show, and learns a thing or two about artists and ambition in the process. Christian McKay’s superb impersonation of Welles as heroically flamboyant theatrical tyrant is the film’s great centerpiece, but young Richard’s pell mell rite of artistic passage with Welles and his wily assistant Sonja (an excellent Claire Danes) and with aspiring writer Gretta (Zoe Kazan) takes up the greater part of the story by far. Ben Chaplin, Eddie Marsan, James Tupper and Leo Bill are very good in smaller roles as various real-life collaborators in Welles’ early exploits in radio, theater and (eventually) the movies. Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13