Richard is a 17-year-old kid from New Jersey with the gift of the gab and an eye for the ladies. He’s bored with school and dreams of making it big in the dazzling world of 1930s Manhattan. This is the story of one week in Richard’s life, when he miraculously gets a part in a history-making production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Mercury theatre, New York. It’s the week he falls in love, and falls out of love again; it’s the week he changes his middle name – twice. It’s also the week he meets the colossally talented, fearsomely charming, soon-to-be-superstar Orson Welles. After this week, Richard’s life will never be the same again.
Sometimes, when watching a period movie, a filmmaker can ask you to suspend your disbelief to the point of distraction that can make or break a movie. Being set in 1937, Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Slacker, School of Rock) manages to pull off this task with ease.
The film follows Richard (Zac Efron), during a whirlwind week of highs and lows, finding love, passion and Orson Welles (Christian McKay). When Richard randomly comes across a rag tag bunch of theatre folk standing outside New York’s famed Mercury Theatre, he talks his way into a role in Orson Welles debut play at the Mercury – Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
Here he meets the rest of the theatre troupe and finds himself falling for the older, but maybe not that wiser Sonja (Claire Danes). During his week of new adventures he manages to learn to play the lute, find the courage to stand up for himself and what he believes in.
If you love movies that can truly transport you and immerse you in the world that it is creating then you will love this film. It’s a film that can truly sweep you up in the charm and naiveté of the era without making it feel old fashioned or out of touch.
Zac Efron can act. There is no doubt in my mind that in the years to come we will be seeing a lot more substantial roles than he has been getting in the past. In his role as Richard, he was the very embodiment of the word ‘earnest’. You could compare him to a young Michael J Fox or Christopher Reeve – yes he’s that likeable. Claire Danes has had an up and down career in the last few years and I wasn’t sure where her career was going (Terminator 3? Seriously?). In this film she has found a very comfortable fit. As Sonja, she projects the girl next door image but you know that there’s a deeper story there that is told through her eyes.
Come Oscar time, like Christoph Waltz with Inglourious Basterds, Christian McKay should get at least a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. As Orson Welles, the man is faultless. Not only did he sound almost exactly like Welles, but also the resemblance and mannerisms were outstandingly close. You’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate performance by an actor this year.
For any fan of theatre, cinema or just great showmanship, this film will entertain and delight. Richard Linklater has really grown as a filmmaker and it’s nice to see that he has escaped the sophomoric mire that some of his contemporaries are still stuck in (I’m looking at you Kevin Smith!)
It’s released on 29th July in selected cinemas.
I give this film 4 out of 5 stars.