Eva Hassmann pulls triple duty writing, directing and starring in this ramshackle comedy about a Willie Nelson superfan. She plays Greta, a German housewife who leaves her rich jerk of a husband to see Nelson’s supposed final concert in Las Vegas. Sparks fly when her fish-out-of-water dream trip goes haywire in every way imaginable.
It’s an odd hodgepodge of a movie. Bouncing between satire, slapstick and sweetness, the thin plot careens wildly with little sense of control. Yet there’s an infectious optimism woven throughout, thanks to Hassmann’s spirited lead turn and a wall-to-wall soundtrack of Nelson classics. The country icon even cameos as himself and a mysterious drifter, while the late, great Peter Bogdanovich pops up behind a hotel desk.
If only the technical execution matched Hassmann’s effusive vision. Her amateur directing leaves the tone and pacing utterly disjointed. But her obvious passion for the material makes it tough not to root for this funky misfire. It may flounder more often than it floats, but greets each new disaster with a grin and Nelson strumming along. What it lacks in finesse, it tries to make up for in freewheeling charm.
What Works…And What Really Doesn’t
There’s no questioning lead actress and first-time director Eva Hassmann’s contagious exuberance. Like her character Greta’s unconditional love for Willie Nelson, Hassmann approaches this passion project with unbridled devotion in every frame. She fully commits to the film’s quirky, freewheeling vibe, selling each new mishap with such infectious optimism it’s hard not to crack a smile.
Having Nelson prominently involved also gifts the ramshackle road trip with a warm familiarity. His iconic music blankets the journey, welcoming us into Greta’s worldview. Nelson even cameos twice – once as a soot-faced stranger, and again playing himself. Brief as they are, his appearances lend the story a playful genuineness.
The late Peter Bogdanovich similarly elevates his hotel clerk role through sheer presence, delivering a touching grace note in his final on-screen performance. And while the plot drifts in a thousand silly directions, Hassmann navigates the chaos with such earnest appeal that you can’t help but root for her dreams-chasing misfit.
If only the execution matched her go-for-broke spirit. Hassmann’s amateur directing constantly undercuts the atmosphere she works so hard to build. The editing seems drunk on that same freewheeling ethos, stitching together scenes with little narrative logic. The pacing lurches clumsily from beat to beat with no sense of control, struggling to squeeze laughs from its overtly kooky hijinks.
Perhaps most frustrating are the failed stabs at satire. Is it spoofing American culture? Marriage? The role of celebrities in personal identity? Tough to say when the caricatures are so superficial and the message so muddled. Any attempts at biting humor get swallowed up by its cheesiness – see the cringey CGI work trying to sell Greta’s splashy mishaps.
What we’re left with are thinly sketched characters wandering through postcard landscapes so false they border on psychedelic dream sequences. Nelson’s stoic stranger even references Greta’s journey being “like something out of the Twilight Zone.” And much like that show’s later farce-heavy years, the sloppy storytelling aims for zany when it often just feels lazy.
Without the charm of its leads, Willie and Me would likely fade away completely. But glimmers of Hassmann’s passions shine bright enough to partially compensate for the slapdash filmmaking. It makes for a well-intentioned mess – shaggy in craft yet so sincere in spirit it’s hard not to smile. Just don’t expect the smiles to last once Willie’s last lyric fades out.
Chasing Dreams Down A Twangy Highway
Like countless road trip flicks before, Willie and Me uses its cross-country travelogue to explore the allure of chasing impulsive dreams. Greta’s all-consuming fandom sparks a wild goose chase to Vegas born more from her heart than her head. She abandons stability for the fantasy of whatever lies just over the next dusty horizon.
Of course, the irony lies in just how difficult her quest becomes. This fish-out-of-water is woefully unprepared for the strange inhabitants roaming America’s vast landscapes. Her naivete turns the journey into a gauntlet of thieves, grifters and dangers foreign to her orderly German sensibilities.
Yet like the most stubborn dreamers, Greta perceives each new catastrophe as but a minor detour. She sees the magic, not the madness, of spontaneous freedom. With Willie’s existential twang as her soundtrack, she tunes out the absurdity and chaos to stay blissfully on-mission – living inside the romanticized movie playing out inside her head.
And perhaps that edited reality is a conscious form of escape too. We learn music first helped a young Greta cope with her unstable home life. Now it again provides refuge from the pains of a crumbling marriage and identity. By clinging to Willie as her guardian angel, his songs transport her to a world governed not by others’ rules, but by her own private Idaho.
So however bumpy the trail, Greta chases her American myth with wide-eyed wonder, perpetually reborn with each sunrise. Hassmann’s tribute suggests that blind optimism can be burden and blessing – naive to logic yet obedient to hopeful whims. Like Willie wails, Greta just can’t wait to get on the road again.
Picturesque Backdrops, Shaky Execution
Cinematographers Marco Cappetta and Alexa Ihrt mask the film’s indie budget with sweeping landscape vistas faintly echoing Willie tunes about wide open spaces. Their CinemaScope lensing dwarfs Hassmann against Southwestern scrubs and Sierra mountain ranges, capturing the grandeur and opportunity swelling within Greta’s road trip reveries.
But as with the filmmaking overall, the soaring intentions routinely topple. The pretty backdrops reveal their artificiality upon closer inspection, with sloppy green-screen work placing the actors in a handcrafted snow globe rather than the real American west.
The overly-stylized aesthetics seem to want to visually transport us into Greta’s fantasy the way Willie’s music does emotionally. Yet the technical wizardry required remains beyond Hassmann’s directorial capabilities.
Thus the glittering scenery stands apart from the story, dropping characters into postcard landscapes because it looks neat rather than serving a unified artistic purpose. The images sweep your gaze while failing to provide firm narrative footing.
It makes for a bumpy cinematic ride – moments of picturesque promise continually undermined by the amateur execution, like pretty wrapping paper hiding an empty box. The craftsmanship can’t fully realize Hassmann’s cinematic vision. But oh, what could have been with more seasoned hands steering Greta’s honey-hazed dream.
Leads Shine Despite Thin Parts
Whatever the film lacks in directorial polish, Hassmann brings in lead performance charm. She fully invests in Greta’s bubbly dreamer spirit, leaning into each fresh mishap with a puppy-like enthusiasm. Her commitment sells the emotional reality behind the kooky hijinks even when the craftsmanship falters.
If only the supporting players received the same dimensional treatment. Hassmann peoples her neon Americana fantasy with superficial caricatures rather than felt human beings. The hotel clerk, Elvis impersonator and other quirky drifters seem torn from road movie mad libs, leaving her committed performance feeling stranded.
A late-career Peter Bogdanovich appearance adds soulful texture to the hotel scenes, hinting at melancholy regrets behind the desk clerk’s frequent nips. It makes for a touching grace note in the actor’s final screen role.
But of course the film’s namesake glue is Willie Nelson, who lends such kind-eyed warmth to his brief cameos you wish he’d stuck around longer. We feel Greta’s lifeline connection to him in an instant thanks to his signature laidback presence.
Surrounding Hassmann with less skilled comedians doing silly sketches underserves her invested efforts at grounding this day-glo lark. But between Nelson’s comforting familiarity and Bogdanovich’s goodbye gravitas, glimmers of humanity peek through the foolish facade.
Rookie Filmmaking Trips Over Its Own Shoes
You have to admire first-timer Hassmann’s daring here – writing, directing and starring in her first feature while wrangling an icon like Willie Nelson? That’s a tall order for even veteran filmmakers. Yet she attacks the challenge with courageous gusto, spearheading every frame with an irrepressible can-do attitude.
If only ability matched ambition. Hassmann’s inexperience shows in the clumsy pacing, awkward editing and inconsistent tone. Jarring shifts from satirical jabs to doe-eyed sweetness give the film tonal whiplash. So too do sudden swerves from deadpan pratfalls to weepy confessions.
It often feels like first draft brainstorming splashed haphazardly onto film stock – the inspired highs of whimsy steamrolled by structural sloppiness. Hassmann’s passion repeatedly gets tangled up in the nuts and bolts of translating ideas to cinema.
Yet like its plucky heroine, a scrappy sincerity punches through the amateurish execution. Moments emerge like Willie’s fireside hoedown that exude Hassmann’s creative joy outshining her technical fumbles. Diehards may tap their toes while silently editing a tighter film in their heads.
If nothing else, Hassmann earns respect for swinging big. She loses her grip on filmmaking fundamentals but never her mojo, chasing her cinematic dream with a heart set to wander.
Imperfect Tribute Still Hits the Heart
Eva Hassmann likely shocked some industry folks by not just starring in but writing and directing her first feature too. And throwing in Willie Nelson cameos to boot? Girl apparently doesn’t know the meaning of “temper expectations.”
Yet while the final product bites off more than it can reasonably chew, Hassmann does succeed where it matters most – channeling her boundless affection for her subject. Willie and Me emerges less a film than a 90-minute testimonial to the bonds between artist and fan, creature and creator.
It barely functions scene to scene, bouncing between misaimed satire and schmaltz often as disorienting as Greta’s misadventures. But Hassmann’s leading turn gifts even the flimsiest moments a guileless charm, while Nelson’s music and presence carry us through the rickety back half. Their chemistry and goodwill triumphs over all.
Diehard Willie worshippers may forgive the sadly amateur filmmaking just to see their icon cut loose by the fire. The rest of us still walk away smiling at witnessing someone’s impossible dream flicker briefly to life. Hassmann’s reach hopelessly exceeds her grasp, yet in today’s calculated studio system, there’s nobility in her earnest artistic swing-for-the-fences.
Willie and Me won’t launch any franchises or filmmaking careers. But as a quirky character sketch and public love letter to an idol? Hassmann nails her sweet spot.
Willie and Me
Willie and Me is an amateurishly-made but sweet-natured passion project overflowing with quirky charm. First-time filmmaker Eva Hassmann may bite off more than she can chew, but her infectious love for Willie Nelson and lively leading performance make for an endearingly ramshackle tribute. It’s a movie made more from the heart than the head - brimming with spirit if not quality craft.
- Hassmann's enthusiastic performance
- Willie Nelson's warm presence
- Iconic music throughout
- Feel-good atmosphere
- Hassmann's clear passion
- Disjointed plot
- Clumsy direction
- Cheap production values
- Superficial supporting characters
- Failed comedy attempts