Directed by Nicholas JasenovecStarring Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera and Jake JohnsonRated PG-13*7.5*
Goes well with: (500) Days of Summer, When Harry Met Sally, Superstar:The Karen Carpenter Story
There really are no movies in theaters like Paper Heart, which might be called a lo-fi notumentary (new word meaning not a documentary, all rights reserved) about love. With puppets. And actual documentary footage that's so simple and sweet that it'll charm even the most jaded hipster, Paper Heart's target demo.
Charlyne Yi is an odd, bespectacled Asian-American who favors baggy hoodies and video games over push-up bras and Sex in the City. She does weird stand-up and doesn't believe in love. She's not broken-heart cynical—she's just never fallen for anyone. So she sets out with director Nick Jasenovec to make a road-trip documentary, interviewing people across the country about love.
Now, the idea is that Jasenovec will capture every moment of Yi's life while she figures this out. So, of course, he's there when Charlyne meets Michael Cera—yes, the Michael Cera—who digs her. So, while she's learning about love from other people, she's also discovering it firsthand.
But wait, there's more. See, the interviews Yi conducts are real, and even though she's an eccentric interviewer, the tales she elicits are incredibly engaging, even while they're acted out via elaborate puppet shows (you kind of have to see it). But the burgeoning relationship between her and Cera? That happened in real life, but it's scripted for the camera. And, in fact, all of Yi's interactions with Jasenovec are scripted, because Jasenovec, the director, is played by Jake Johnson, an actor.
So, here's the question—if some of it is scripted and some of it is real, did the filmmakers know exactly where they were going to end up when they started? Kind of.
“We shot 300 hours of footage,” Jasenovec tells CityBeat. “We shot tangents and moments, but we discovered we didn't have any artificial conflict that you would see in a normal romantic comedy. There was never any ‘Charlyne's interested in this other boy, and it's going to tear their relationship apart.' We never had anything like that. But when we cut the narrative footage together, we noticed this pattern of the cameras and the crew getting in the way. We never wanted to hit that too hard because we felt it was obvious. But it was naturally there in the footage, so it became a bigger part of the story.”
This isn't explained until the credits roll, when Johnson's role is noted and Yi and Jasenovec share a writing credit. So, people who don't stick around might not realize that some of what they've seen, though it feels real, isn't. “It's very clear in the credits,” Johnson says. “But you never know what people are going to see.”
And that, Jasenovec says, isn't necessarily a bad thing. “We needed a writing credit, because we want people to know what it is. We tried to present it as naturally as possible, so you could understand it from her perspective. What's love to one person isn't necessarily love to another. So we have this collection of stories and thoughts and views intercut with one cynical girl's experience with her first relationship.”
And it works. Yi is adorable, and as she learns about love through the viewpoints and stories of people across the country, you can't help but hope she finds some herself. Even though the narrative parts were scripted, she learned something along the way.
“I knew that love is different for everyone and that you have to experience it for yourself,” she says. “But I don't think my doubts were cynical. Everyone doubts love. Everyone wonders if they'll find someone. Those uncertainties, you just accept them; you realize that everything's uncertain in life. You have to live in the moment and see where it goes. But meeting all those people, it was really inspirational. It made me more hopeful, I guess. In the movie, I know, it's ‘Charlyne doesn't believe that love exists.' But I think that she obviously does believe in it and hopes to find love. Someone without at least a little hope wouldn't set out to do it.”Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.