Shot by Mike Leigh’s buddy Dick Pope (also The Illusionist), all widescreen and colorful (except for a fun sepia-toned postcard backdrop standing in for 1937 New York). He and Linklater seem an overqualified group to shoot a minor teen coming-of-age thing with Zac Efron. I wouldn’t have minded if the movie had more of that Newton Boys energy, but I didn’t think it came to life until the final third, and even then I was more impressed by the recreations of Welles’s Julius Caesar production than anything Zac and Claire Danes were up to.
Zac, based on the character of Arthur Anderson (who went on to voice Lucky Charms commercials), stumbles into the ramshackle Mercury theater group on charm (heh), then is fired after the opening performance for trying to act noble instead of shutting up while the boss was trying to sleep with his girl. I hope this whole project was Richard Linklater’s attempt to make Welles’s family unleash The Other Side of the Wind and whatever other projects they’re preventing from being released. How do you fight back when your father is being portrayed on screen as a tyrannical sex-crazed egotist? Release his unseen works to remind the audience of his artistry! If it works, we each owe Linklater a fiver. Professional Welles impersonator Christian McKay does a good job, not going into hysterics like Angus Macfayden in Cradle Will Rock (the only detail in which this film improves on the great Cradle Will Rock).
Ben Chaplin (private Bell in The Thin Red Line) was my favorite as George Coulouris/Mark Anthony, though I didn’t recognize him and suspected him all along of being a young-looking Ciaran Hinds. Eddie Marsan, the foul driving instructor from Happy-Go-Lucky, was a flustered John Houseman. Zoe Kazan (Elia’s granddaughter, currently appearing in Meek’s Cutoff) is Zac’s savior from the theater crowd – he meets her shortly before getting involved with them, sees her again in the thick of it, then goes off to have a date with her after bittersweetly giving up on theater life. Decent enough movie, but if instead of joining Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater, Zac Efron was part of Kriminy Krafft’s Fiction House Theater or some other thing, I don’t think I would’ve bothered to continue after I paused halfway through to get some pie. Take away the Welles interest and there’s nothing here for me.