Wearing multiple hats – writing, directing, and acting – requires a huge amount of both the technical and ancillary skills necessary to create an excellent film. A handful of actors, going back to Charlie Chaplin, have had the massive talent necessary to take on these multiple roles.
Among those actors who have successfully worn several hats include the most prolific Woody Allen, whose massive 50-feature portfolio began in 1966 with What’s Up Tiger Lily, with his last film being with Rifkin’s Festival. Unfortunately, his private life was impacted negatively later on in his career, and we have not heard from him in the recent past. Still, in my opinion, he is the master of multi-tasking.
Although there are too many to list, here is a sampling of an elite group of other actors who have successfully worn multiple hats: Orson Welles (Citizen Cane,) Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Maestro,) Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino,) Mel Gibson (Braveheart,) Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing,) Barbara Streisand (Yentl, The Prince of Tides,) George Clooney (The Monuments Men, Michael Clayton,) Ben Affleck (Argo, The Town,) Quentin Tarantino: (Reservoir Dogs, Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction,) Kevin Costner: (Dances with Wolves, The Postman, Open Range,) Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman and multiple Madea films.)
Why, you might wonder, did I devote so much ink to listing these talented filmmakers? The reason is simple. Before your vanity tricks you into thinking you can walk in those footsteps, you better be sure to have the massive talent required to pull it off. I’m afraid in the case of German actress Eva Hassmann, who tried wearing multiple hats in her first feature, monumentally failed to write a believable script, and who, despite being mentored by the late Peter Bogdonavich, her skills on all levels were pretty much at beginner level.
The story: Hassmann plays Greta Weingarten, a supposedly unhappy housewife who has been obsessed with Willy Nelson since she was a child. She learns that Mr. Nelson is going to give his last concert in Las Vegas, and she makes up her mind that she has to go. Without discussing this with her husband, played by Thure Riefenstein, she sells his Porsche for $7,500 and sneaks out of the house, leaving a candle burning, which causes a massive fire.
So, the husband is bereft of his Porche and is living in the charred remains of his home. In the meantime, Greta arrives in New York and is met by a very friendly desk clerk played by the one and only Bogdonavich, who gives the only believable performance. This is contrasted by mostly indicating and mugging* by Hassmann and the rest of the cast, who basically give line readings, indicate** emotions, and were sorely in need of a skilled director to help them navigate their roles. Greta hides her money under the mattress, and as I watched that scene knew that money was going to disappear, and indeed it did following a night of heavy drinking with a man she met at a bar.
Anyway, she meets Nick, a friendly Elvis impersonator played by Blaine Gray, who becomes her guardian angel, eventually lending her his car to drive to Las Vegas. During that drive, she encounters a mother (Darby Stanchfield) and her three children, who appear to be having car trouble and offers them a lift.
It is telegraphed that these Christian do-gooders are scammers and are up to no good. Sure enough, they eventually steal her car and strand her in the middle of the desert, where she is left to die. (Acting level: beginners.) But she survives and winds up on a road (don’t ask me how) where she refuses a lift from two unsavory characters. The scammer family winds up in New York, where Nick is walking along in his Elvis costume, and the kids want his autograph. But wait. Nick recognizes his truck, and the scammers make a hasty exit.
Being the guy that he is, he sets out to find her but doesn’t. In the meantime, through some sort of a miracle, she survives the deadly desert and arrives in Las Vegas just in time for Willy’s concert but alas doesn’t have the $300 for a ticket. So, guess what? She climbs up a pipe, I kid you not and tries to watch the show through a window but falls down just as Willy is emerging with his entourage.
Battered-looking, with dirt on her face and her dress ragged, Willy, of course, gives her his autograph. That’s basically it in a nutshell. Oh, one other observation. There is a group of old ladies who are ardent Elvis fans who swoon over Nick. Their acting is, let’s see, maybe at an eighth-grade level. They needed direction in developing their characters, but alas, director Hassmann didn’t have the directorial skills to direct herself, them, or any of the actors in the film. Alas, the lack of skills applied to production values starting with Ting Yu’s spotty editing where locations were confusing and interchangeable.
Marco Cappetta and Alexa Ihrt’s camera work was adequate but certainly not outstanding. Russell Boast’s casting is quite questionable, and one wonders how he found these mostly unskilled actors. One positive note is the outstanding soundtrack by Gerry Gershman, who, throughout the film, incorporated a few of Willy Nelson’s greatest hits, including “Whiskey River,” “On the Road Again,” and “Always on My Mind.” There’s an old show biz axiom that says: “I left the theatre humming the set.” In this case, you’ll leave the theatre humming Willy Nelson’s fabulous music.
“Willy and Me”
Writer, Producer, Director: Eva Hassmann
Producer: Hans Georg Naeder
Starring: Eva Hassmann and Blaine Gray, with Darby Stanchfield, Peter Bogdanovich,
Thure Riefenstein, Carlos Leal, and Willie Nelson
Distributed by: Quiver Distribution
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: Theaters & Streaming: Feb. 9, 2024
*Mugging: Make silly or exaggerated faces in front of an audience or on camera.
**In acting, “indicating” means faking the emotion vs. being a truthful, organic moment.