The agile script ably captures the conflicting clashes of the behemoth of a personality that was Orson Welles, from the explosive temper tantrums to the slyly manipulative charm to the casual womanizing, painting a vivid (but likely not larger than life) portrait of the man without either romanticizing or demonising him. It is ultimately the presence of the titular character which rescues the film from becoming yet another "cast rehearsing a play" film, as the dynamo of Welles tearing through the film at all the least expected moments creates a sporadic force of havok keeping the film continually off kilter, preventing it from descending into cliché and keeping it consistently interesting as consequence. While the story's lightness of touch does make some of the plot points either overly obvious or unbelievable, a film so unassumingly enjoyable fails to evoke much complaint - whether dabbling in the dramatic or the comedic, Me and Orson Welles remains refreshingly cheerful and earnest, and all the better for it. Completing the package, Linklater's rare tackling of a period piece demonstrates his typically astute ability to capture the feel and flavour of the times, with the earnest ambition of the 1930s well complimented by subtly stylish sets and costumes while simultaneously avoiding beating the audience over the head with more overt details of the time (instead of the potential hackneyed Nazi allusions, Linklater includes merely a brief radio snippet which is quickly cut off, a classy and subtle inclusion).
Undergoing a difficult transition from teenage heartthrob to dramatic lead, Zac Efron gives a surprisingly solid performance as the idealistic young actor swept into the wild world of Welles, convincingly contributing charm, comedy and genuine sympathy to the emotional centerpoint of the film. However, given the title, it isn't difficult to imagine the inevitable highlight of the show, and true enough, as the infamous Welles, British stage actor Christian McKay doesn't so much steal scenes as seize and throttle them, exploding on screen with the same engrossing bluster that only the real Welles himself could conjure up. Blending the conflicting elements of an indisputably difficult character as easily as he nails the trademark voice and appearance, McKay's Welles alternates between devilish charmer and explosive force to be feared, shaking up the film with similar vigour and nuanced genius - one of the most impressive cinematic debuts in recent memory. Claire Danes is also on top form as a good hearted but endlessly ambitious member of Welles' company, and Ben Chaplin and James Tupper are endearing presences as eccentric members of Welles' calamitous company.
As unconventional a project as it may be, Me and Orson Welles remains one of the most unashamedly lighthearted and enjoyable forays into nostalgia in many a year, breezily blending the serious with the silly while never skimping on historical fact. The addition of McKay's brilliantly combustive Welles make the theatrical rehearsal sequences a joy to behold instead of drearily formulaic, making Linklater's latest film a charm to behold for even the most cynical of audiences.