Paper Heart

Light, amateurish (in the positive and negative sense of the term), meandering, and marred by a jarringly fake ending, “Paper Heart” is nonetheless an intermittently charming indie, offering a quirky, offbeat look at the many faces of “true love.”

 

The film is directed by first-timer Nick Jasenovec, who co-wrote the scenario with Charlyne Yi, who also exec-produced and co-wrote the music with actor Michael Cera, her real-life boyfriend and collaborator.  

The combination of documentary, fiction, and mockumentary elements is original, even if it's not always smooth or effective, and the same can be said about the insertion of illustrative interludes, montages enacted by colorful puppets and accompanied to music.

 

Even so, “Paper Heart” is exactly the kind of first film you would expect to see at the Sundance Film Fest, where the indie premiered in competition.  Overture will release the romantic comedy in early August s counter-programming.  With the right handling and critical support it could become a date movie for the high school and college crowds, with a longer life in ancillary markets.

 

The protag is Charlyne Yi, a bright, eccentric, self-deprecating, awkward-looking Asian-American girl who sets out to explore the nature of true love in a journey that takes her to at least 20 different locations, from big cities, like L.A., New York, and even Paris, all the way to smaller, more provincial sites in Texas, Arkansas.

 

Charlyne claims she does not believe in love, particularly the kind presented in American pop culture, fairy-tales, Hollywood flicks.  Her own limited experiences have turned her into a modern-day skeptic and cynic.  However, just looking at her and listening to what she says immediately suggests the notion that she's a young girl who's desperate to fall in love.

 

Assuming the structure of as road picture, the narrative follows Charlyne as she embarks on a quest across the U.S. (and Canada) to make a documentary about the one subject she doesn’t fully understand.  She is accompanied by her good friend and director Nick (played by Jake Johnson), who records all of her encounters on camera. In the course of the film, Charlyne talks with friends and strangers, scientists, bikers, romance novelists, and young children, who prove to be more savvy and sophisticated that some of the adults. Needless to say, they each offer diverse views on modern romance, as well as various answers to the age-old question: does true love really exist?

 

We get to meet young couples, old couples (that have been together for 50 years and nine months and still recall their very first meeting and first date), gay couples, that differentiate themselves form the others by claiming they had sex on their second date (which was actually the first after one partner stood the other up) in a parking lot.

 

Shortly after shooting begins, Charlyne meets a boy after her own liking, Michael Cera, the charming, effete actor who made a strong mark in “Juno” and “Superbad.”  As their relationship develops on camera, her pursuit to discover the nature of love takes on a more personal and fresher urgency.  There also are risks involved of Charlyne losing the person she finds closest to her heart, when he shows discomfort at being endlessly recorded, while driving, eating in restaurants, and even at his own home in Canada, where the journey ends.

 

Overall, “Paper Heart” benefits from the idea to create an entertaining story that wasn’t overly structured or in the vein of a Hollywood romantic comedy (with its requisite steps and phases).  Through the tale relies on a script as an outline, some of the dialogue feels improvised in the effort to make the proceedings seem more realistic and plausible.

 

Combining elements of documentary and traditional storytelling, reality and fantasy, “Paper Heart” offers an amused (and bemused) perspective on modern romance.  Problem is, the footage is sharply uneven in wit and humor, and the saga meanders too much, relying on repetitive structure of interviews with real-life people, illustrations of their romantic encounters via puppets, and episodic look at the on and off romance between Charlene and Cera.

Credits

Anchor Bay Entertainment Presentation
Producers: Sandra Murillo, Elise Salomon
Executive producers: Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi
Screenplay: Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi
Cinematography: Jay Hunter
Editor: Ryan Brown
Music: Michael Cera, Charlyne Yi