Film review – Paper Heart (2009)

Charlyne Yi
Charlyne Yi

The latest entry into the increasingly popular faux documentary genre is Paper Heart with comedian Charlyne Yi (who audiences may recognise from her brief but entertaining cameo in Knocked Up) attempting to discover why she seems incapable of feeling romantic love. Yi, playing a version of herself in the film, teams up with director Nicholas Jasenovec (who does direct Paper Heart but is played by Jake M. Johnson on screen) to travel around America and interview people about what love means to them. They interview members of a bikie gang, a group of children, a romance writer, a gay couple, a couple who work in a divorce court, people who work in a Vegas chapel and what feels like an endless stream of long-term older married couples. Along the way Yi meets Michael Cera (Year One, Juno), who also plays a version of himself, and the documentary changes focus as the pair begin a relationship.

In many ways Paper Heart is the cardigan-wearers equivalent to (500) Days of Summer where a very keen boy meets a girl but the girl has big reservations about falling in love. While (500) Days of Summer was very much a hip indi film, Paper Heart is going for a geek-chic vibe. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work as the main story about Yi and Cera doesn’t have enough meat on it to sustain interest and Yi herself is just not that interesting. Her almost monotonous voice and dorky persona may work on the stand-up circuit but such attributes are not enough to carry a film. Cera’s shtick of being awkward yet endearing works wonderfully when his character is significantly juxtaposed against everything else around him (as demonstrated most effectively in Superbad and the television series Arrested Development) but when an entire film is going for an awkward yet endearing feel, Cera’s personae loses its impact.

Michael Cera
Michael Cera

Paper Hearts simply tries way to hard to be cute and whimsical. There are several scenes where the stories told by the interview subjects are represented visually through the use of crudely made paper cut-out puppets on string, similar to the home-craft aesthetic that director Michel Gondry extensively used in The Science of Sleep. In Paper Heart the results are just too twee and it is not helped by the fact that the stories being told are all a bit dull. In fact, the only part of the ‘documentary’ that contains any substance is the interview with the gay couple where one of them becomes very emotional talking about a previous boyfriend who had died.

Ultimately Paper Heart is a pleasant enough film and there are some funny moments that are mainly courtesy of Cera. Watching Paper Heart is a nice enough experience but in the end you will struggle to justify the time you spent watching it.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. Very much with you on this one Thomas, it holds your attention but I’ll be struggling to remember much of it in a few weeks time. I agree about Yi too, I have no idea how she makes a living in stand-up, her style seems very one-note and a bit on the mediocre side to be honest! (Ok, that’s a bit harsh – I should reserve judgment until I’ve seen more of her work………..which I probably never will unless it drops in my lap!!)

    I don’t mind Cera however even if he’s ‘acting’ a bit self-consciously with the cameras around in this.

  2. “some people don’t like me, I don’t like some people”, easy enough, so Thomas, your review is 465 words, all the blabbing and complaining could of been said in less than 30 words, or none at all.
    David, “in your lap”? or ON YOUR LAP.

  3. Hi Ioa. Thanks for dropping by and I’m sorry if you felt it was a burden to read all those words. However, as a rule I prefer critical analysis and discussion over short summaries. In this case I felt it was appropriate to go into a bit of detail about why I felt Paper Heart was flawed.

    Also, I wouldn’t worry about David’s choice of words as the version of the expression that he used is very much acceptable and common place.

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