Paper Heart, Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2009
By Celia David
Written by and starring Charlyne Yi, a young Hollywood actress and stand-up comic, Paper Heart is a documentary/mocumentary about that all too elusive word: Love. Yi, who plays a caricature of herself in the film, doesn’t believe in love and is making a documentary about the subject in order to better grasp its concept.
She sets off on a journey around the US in which she interviews people from all walks of life (married high school sweethearts, a divorcee, Las Vegas vacationers, a gay couple and a group of Atlanta middle school children, to name a few) and asks them how they define love.
In a separate story that parallels the interviews, Charlyne meets and begins to form a relationship with awkward indie regular, Michael Cera. Their relationship begins to blossom, and Charlyne clearly develops feelings for Michael. The film shifts from pure documentary to a reality TV-style capture of their budding romance.
However, the catch is that none of it’s real. Although it is rumored Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi did date in real life, they definitely did not meet on the set of Paper Heart. While they use their real names the on-screen romance is entirely fictional and mostly serves as a plot device to transition between the true stories provided by the interviewees.
Paper Heart is not the hard-hitting “serious” type of journalism we often come to expect of a documentary. Although the interviews are not fictionalized, they are mainly anecdotal. And while the stories are real, Yi continues to blur the lines between fiction and reality by recreating the most interesting tales of romance with homemade puppets and miniature paper cut-out sets.
The stories range from amusing (a young girl suggests that eating hot wings at Applebee’s would be the ideal first date), to heartbreaking (a man recalls how his former partner “broke his heart” by dying prematurely) but don’t expect to have a better understanding of the meaning of love by the end of the movie. These stories are for entertainment purposes only.
As the interviewer, Yi is sometimes hilarious and always engaging. Yet, she doesn’t ask many “difficult” questions about the meaning of love or challenge the people she interviews to reconsider their ideas about it. There is no agenda in this film when it comes to love.
What is perhaps more thought-provoking about this movie is it’s creative approach to filmmaking. There is a sense of disregard for the separation of the real and the fictional, and Yi makes no apologies for this lack of distinction. Although Cera takes on the same shy, socially awkward George-Michael persona we have seen in everything from Arrested Development to Superbad to Juno, Yi creates almost no disparity between her fictional and interviewer personalities. And though most of the interviews with strangers are unscripted, some of the interviews Yi holds with her comedian friends are clearly manipulated, if perhaps mostly improvised.
In a “reality” TV world, Paper Heart questions the validity of documentary as an accurate representation of the truth. However, it does so in a lighthearted, enjoyable way that never feels forced for the viewer. Paper Heart borrows from the genre of young, quirky indie comedy that seems to be so popular right now.
Despite some clichés in style, the stars of the film (mainly Yi) are fun to watch. There is something very genuine about the characters, even when they’re fictional. If you’re looking for a fun, slightly off-beat, docu-comedy, then this film is worth a look.