Beyond all the films set to premiere, it’s the food and atmosphere that make this an event you have to experience.
Things got started just a few blocks down from the Enzian Theater at the Winter Park Village. The place was packed with industry people, press and your regular VIPs, all there to see the opening night film Renee.
While the crowd waited outside, I was able to talk to a few people who were able to make Renee happen.
I had a nice chat with the lovely Kristi Engelmann, who plays the girlfriend of Chad Michael Murray in the film. She spoke of her scenes with Murray and leading lady Kat Dennings. This Chicago actress was thrilled to be in Orlando for this big night.
The crowd went wild when the real life Renee showed up. Renee Yohe has lived quite a life. In fact, at only 25, you could make a case that she has seen more in her young years than most will ever see in their whole life.
She is a very humble and shy little lady. In fact, when Enzian president Henry Maldonado introduced her to the crowd just before her biopic began, she only briefly stood up.
I was lucky enough to be seated next to the casting director for Renee, Amy Baker Severson. She told me all about the 28 day shoot and how important it was for the film to be shot in Orlando.
After Maldonado introduced everyone involved and everyone got a round of applause like it was the “state of the union”, it was showtime.
“Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours, and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills, and alcohol. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now.” So wrote Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms, who posted a story on MySpace about a troubled young woman in Central Florida that resonated with teenagers and young adults worldwide. Inspired by the true story of Renee Yohe, a 19-year-old who made a commitment to cease her cycle of chaos from drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and self-injury, Renee tells the tale of a young girl who grew up loving fairy tales but lived through a considerably darker truth. The film could have been much grittier. Kat Dennings does a fine job as Renee. Her sarcastic wit plays well in the movie, especially when you have a character dealing with serious issues (bipolar, cutting, cocaine, etc.). Chad Michael Murray is less believable as Jamie. He comes across as a hipster, without much of a backstory. Rupert Friend really shines in Renee; he reminded me of a young Christian Bale. The message of Renee is extremely powerful, I just think it could have been a lot better with a hard R-rating rather than a PG-13 cop out.
I give RENEE **1/2 of ****
After the movie premiere, it was time to head to the Enzian’s Eden Bar for the party. The food was beyond delicious. The Ravenous Pig, K Restaurant, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, White Wolf Café, Black Bean Deli, and Sushi Pop all provided the amazing dishes. I filled up on sushi, pulled pork sandwiches, shrimp/crap cakes and washed it down with Widmer Bros. beer.
It was time to put down all the food and beer, cut down on my mingling and time to interview the lady of the night…Renee Yohe.
As soon as I sat down with Renee, I sensed she was an “old soul”. She had battle scars on her arm, but she also had the look of a woman who knew how her past could change her future for the better.
When I asked her about the casting process and if she had any input, she was quite frank with her answer. She explained to me that she had been asked about who should play her. Renee felt that her dream choice was of course, Angelina Jolie during her Gia and Girl Interrupted days. She also would have liked to have seen either Shannon Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale) or Lizzy Caplin (Cloverfield) play her. While I agreed with her on Caplin, she did think Kat Dennings played her as close as possible.
What Renee told me next was a bit shocking. Producers were interested in actresses Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff to portray her. This is where Renee put her petite foot down and gave a resounding NO! Casting director Amy Baker Severson would later confirm all of this to me and she also said she would have had no part in casting an actress like Miley or Hilary for such a gritty role. Renee is a huge fan of author Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke) and initially felt that her biopic would have been Palahniuk-esque.
Renee was involved in certain aspects of the first draft of the script. While she felt the film played it safe at times with some “hard hitting” scenes, she believed the film did a proper job of telling the message of hope and inspiration she carries with her. Being a local product, she was pleased that Orlando got to shine in the spotlight and some attention could be brought to the city.
She told me she is honored and humbled when a young girl comes up to her to tell her how she inspired them through some of their darkest moments. Renee mentioned that she wants young girls to remember perfection isn’t everything and that the human condition is just begging to be seen as transparent as possible.
Music plays a major part in Renee’s life. It’s her passion. She is starting her tour on the 2oth of this month, until early June. She just recently finished recording in L.A. (her new project is called Bearcat), and while she wouldn’t rule out a future acting career; music is the only “bug” she has right now. Her taste in music is quite eclectic. From Regina Specter to Fiona Apple, from Simon & Garfunkel to The Lovin’ Spoonful and even Doris Day; Renee Yohe is a beautifully interesting lady.
One night down, nine more to go.
Lights. Camera. ACTSEAN!