The former Disney stars align! This week, attempts to transition into a more mature phase of stardom by High School Musical hoops star Zac Efron (Me and Orson Welles) and Hannah Montana herself, Miley Cyrus (The Last Song), debut on home video. Me and Orson Welles, a period drama that's currently available to rent on iTunes (it rolls out on Netflix on September 14), is by far the better film, but both show their stars' limitations in interesting, and sometimes thoroughly amusing, ways.
Me and Orson Welles is directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise/Sunset), a filmmaker whose genre-hopping and consistent interest in group dynamics make him a sort of latter-day Howard Hawks fill-in for many critics with auteurist leanings. So Welles isn't strictly a vehicle for Efron; his most recent film, Charlie St. Cloud, a now-in-theaters weepie that finds its protagonist grappling with some heavy stuff after high school graduation, would probably provide a more appropriate Last Song analogue. But it's worth noting how Efron fares with less cloying material.
Efron is the nominal lead of Me and Orson Welles, about the legendary actor-director's 1937 performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at Broadway's Mercury Theatre. But he is part of a very strong ensemble: Claire Danes, Christian McKay, Zoe Kazan, Ben Chaplin, and Eddie Marsan, a British actor who appeared on the fringes of some of the last decade's best films (The New World, Miami Vice) before outdoing himself in a larger role in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. So it's possible to enjoy Linklater's film despite being totally put off by the spectacle of the "Get'cha Head in the Game" singer crooning his way through a song interpolated from Henry VIII while strumming on a makeshift lute. Efron's vaguely plastic features don't mesh particularly well with the movie's period appointments, either, but then that's not so much his fault as that of whoever cast him.