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.