A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this 1937-set Zac Efron showbiz dramedy from Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater is a world away from High School Musical (though Efron does sing). It tackles mature themes -- including infidelity and opportunism -- that aren't age-appropriate for Efron’s tween fan base, and the movie's initially slowish pace may turn off even some older fans. But when things get going, the movie is breezy fun for those who appreciate showbiz history. Expect some strong language (including "s--t"), a bit of drinking and smoking, and references to sex (though nothing graphic is shown).
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What's the story?
It’s 1937, and wunderkind thespian Orson Welles (Christian McKay) is at a make-or-break moment, about to open a modernized version of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theater. His world collides with that of Richard (Zac Efron), a teenager who yearns to move beyond the confines of his high school. He gets what he wishes when he encounters Welles and his troupe on a busy New York street and is offered a small-yet-crucial part in the play. But is he up to the task -- both as an actor and as a man discovering the allure of women?
Is it any good?
Despite its jaunty pace and rat-a-tat banter, it takes a while for ME AND ORSON WELLES to find its groove. Based on a historical novel by Richard Kaplow, it has the period details down pat, but it feels self-consciously meticulous, unable to really enjoy its script about the backstage foibles of a theater production. Perhaps it’s because, able as he is, Efron feels thoroughly too modern to believe, and the stage actors seem too, well, actor-ly. (McKay, as Welles, is compelling, but you never completely forget that he’s playing make-believe.) Claire Danes, as an ambitious secretary, emotes with authenticity, but even she feels overdone.
Then a funny thing happens on the way to (Caesar’s) forum: Halfway through the movie, we begin to care, largely because a love triangle of sorts develops. And by the time the curtains fall, we care very much indeed and are actually transfixed by the show we glimpse onscreen. (Linklater tried to recreate as much as he could of Welles’ Shakespearean oeuvre, and the icon fascinates.) The soundtrack carries viewers through beautifully, too. Bottom line? The movie’s imperfect, but it sure is a swell diversion.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie compares to other coming-of-age stories. What does Richard learn from Orson Welles -- and about himself?
Who do you think the movie is intended to appeal to? Does it succeed?
Why doesn't Richard feel like high school is big enough to contain him? Is he being fanciful, or is he right?
- In theaters: November 25, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: August 17, 2010
- Cast: Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Zac Efron
- Director: Richard Linklater
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexual references and smoking
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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