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.
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.