Many films will sweep you away into an alternate universe where you can immerse yourself in the glories and triumphs of another time and place.

ME & ORSON WELLES accomplishes this magnificently.

RICHARD SAMUELS (ZAC EFRON) is a 17 year old high school student in 1937. He is sensitive, intelligent and passionate about the arts.

He longs to expressive himself creatively. The acting classes he’s taking only make him hunger for challenge and substance.

On a typical afternoon, he walks into a music shop in Manhattan. He flirts with an amiable teenage girl who’s practising at the piano. She wants to be a playwright.

They chat for a few minutes then say their goodbyes outside. Across the street, a number of men are arguing boisterously back and forth. Naturally curious, Richard goes over to see what all the fuss is about.

He is briefly unaware that they are members of the Mercury Theater company, which was founded and managed by boy genius ORSON WELLES (CHRISTIAN McKAY).

The Mercury is percolating, bubbling up, trying to find a focus. Orson is keen on doing a production of Julius Caesar in modern dress. When he discovers that Richard can sing, he offers him the part of Lucius.

Richard’s education is just beginning. In one short, eventful (but tumultuous) week, he will have fallen in love, been seduced by an ambitious older woman and learned more about surviving at the top of the heap in show business than some seasoned professionals absorb in decades.

ME & ORSON WELLES is based on the novel by ROBERT KAPLOW. There’s plenty of high dramatics. But it never feels like a fictionalized scenario. Its authenticity is wondrous and all encompassing.

The costumes and the production design are sheer perfection. The details are exacting and intricate. Manhattan looks precisely as it did decades ago.

It helps if you walk into a theatre with no preconceptions about a performer. The High School Musical series is not a cinematic priority for some of us.

ZAC EFRON was a terrific surprise. This young man has an assurance and an ease with this material. He is exceptionally handsome, talented and can hold his own with anyone in the cast.

He made the right move. Appearing in a smart, well crafted indie is an excellent way to be taken seriously. It will certainly help you escape the teen idol pitfalls.

EDDIE MARSAN is an entirely credible JOHN HOUSEMAN.

KELLY REILLY plays actor MURIEL BRASSLER with a real flair. MURIEL is a luminous redhead that is well aware of her power over the opposite sex. She’s flirtatious, sharp and knowingly sophisticated. Her ferocious glamour will get her anything her heart desires.

KELLY should be on Hollywood’s A list. She was equally exquisite in MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS.

CLAIRE DANES is solid and subtle as the driven administrator with whom Richard develops a romantic attachment. This is some of the best work she’s done since her television breakout in MY SO CALLED LIFE.

One of the biggest cliches in the modern age of media is waxing rhapsodic about a charismatic new star that is about to take an eagerly awaiting public by storm. But in this case, all the superlatives in the world fall short.

CHRISTIAN McKAY becomes ORSON WELLES. Right in front of your eyes.

It takes a few minutes to settle in and let his interpretation take maximum effect. But he has given an extraordinary performance that will never be forgotten.

Amazingly, it is also his film debut.

First there’s the voice. If you can’t get that sonorous, booming, mellifluous speech right you’ll be completely lost.

He has it down cold…and then it turns into something exceptionally significant from there.

ORSON WELLES was a brilliant man with serious flaws and a highly contradictory personality. According to published accounts, he was arrogant, impulsive, temperamental, generous, brutal, hot headed, warm, funny, charming, impish, rascally and brazenly tyrannical.

CHRISTIAN McKAY projects all of that and so much more.

Orson’s flagrantly compulsive woman chasing is detailed here. He did have affairs on his pregnant wife VIRGINIA NICOLSON. That is one aspect of the story line. In a week’s time, he is shown having two sexual liaisons with various females associated with the company and pursuing several others.

Definitely not admirable. But you could easily comprehend why women were madly attracted to him. He was a fascinating man with mesmerizing charm.

The goddess RITA HAYWORTH remained close to him as they were going through a divorce. She was crazy about him and he put her through an enormous amount of hell. She always said that Orson possessed a very special place in her heart.

In his own way, he absolutely adored her as well. But it ultimately became too much for her.

CHRISTIAN McKAY will be remembered for this. It’s an incredibly masterful turn that will put him on the map permanently.

If he is not nominated for an Oscar, there is no justice in this world.

It is easy to revere filmmaker RICHARD LINKLATER for directing two of the most achingly romantic films ever: BEFORE SUNRISE and its sequel BEFORE SUNSET.

Here he not only recreates a stunningly believable New York from another era, he draws you in with the myriad details of a thriving theatrical troupe.

Orson would have been delighted.

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