The best ever love letter/horror story about the seductions and anxieties of life in the theater is the Canadian television show Slings & Arrows. This enchantingly bittersweet little film might be the second best. Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon U.K.] and brought to the screen by Richard Linklater — one of the masters of modern melancholy, if only for his diptych of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset — this is an acerbic coming-of-age story, a warmly yearning nostalgia piece, and a smartly uproarious farce all in one. The year is 1937, and Orson Welles is about to launch Broadway’s first production of Shakespeare: a modern-dress fascist take on Julius Caesar. Into the histrionic fray of drama onstage and off at the newly formed Mercury Theater strolls 17-year-old Richard Samuels (the ever delightful Zac Efron: 17 Again), who charms and bluffs his way into a small role in the show… only to discover that his new boss is the master of the, well, mercurial. British actor Christian McKay absolutely steals the movie as Welles (he had previously portrayed the legend in a one-man stage show of his own) but the entire cast — which also features the underappreciated Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky) as Welles’ business partner John Houseman, Claire Danes (Stardust) as the administrative wiz Richard woos, and Ben Chaplin (The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep) as a nervous Mark Antony to Welles’s Brutus — is perfect. Bravo.
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