Saw this last night thanks to Netflix. The film is set in the 1930's New York theater world as Orson Welles goes about directing and starring in a modern dress version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The film stars Zac Efron as a high school kid from upstate NY bitten by the acting bug. He travels into the city and stumbles into an acting job with Welles' Mercury theater players.
Zac Efron brings a very nice naive quality to the part, he's charming to watch. Christian McKay plays Orson Welles as a megalomaniac who oozes charm and chicanery to get his own way - you cross or disagree with him at your own economic peril. Not a likeable guy, but a genius. McKay is less successful in his part simply because he has to tow a fine line between theatricality and some sort of humanity. It's the 'humanity' that he misses. For me, the two acting standouts are Ben Chaplin as actor George Coulouris. (Coulouris went on to have a long stage and movie career as a fine character actor.) And James Tupper is wonderful as actor Joseph Cotton. (The craggy faced Cotton went on to have a great career, a movie star who could act.)
Clare Danes is okay in the part of 'the older woman' who will do what it takes to get ahead. Next step up: an introduction to David O'Selznick. She's beautiful enough, single-minded enough and smart enough. A career girl on the move. Zoe Kazan is more likeable as the impressionable and slightly ditzy Gretta Adler, a girl who just wants to be a writer. Her scenes with Zac Efron are delightful. He always looks slightly abashed by her enthusiasm. I like that.
My favorite parts of the film are the backstage scenes, the mounting of the production, the squabbles, the rehearsals. The actual production opening night is a knock-out. Director Richard Linklater wisely includes several wonderful scenes from the show itself and if the reality was anything like this - wow!
Where the film lets me down is in the lackluster ending going nowhere. But I still recommend seeing it, especially if you love films set in the backstage world of the theater. Read more about the film and watch the trailer here.