written by: Nicholas Jasenovec & Charlyne Yi
produced by: Sandra Morillo & Elise Salomon
directed by: Nicholas Jasenovec
rated PG-13 (for some language)
1 hr, 28 min.
Here's a sweet enough film blending meta-reality and fantasy that can't quite seem to figure out what it is. A documentary? A mockumentary? Hard to say. There definitely is comedy throughout this film directed Nicholas Jasenovec , which focuses on comedian/musician Charlyne Yi as she searches for answers to the questions: What is love and does it exist? and Does true love exist?
For reasons unexplained, it appears Yi doesn't believe in love and isn't sure if she's capable of experiencing it. Now, that's a sad and potentially serious situation to be in which many people can relate to, yet Yi is all smiles and awkward giggles. This can be a bit off-putting at times since we haven't been given the chance to know who she is and are left wondering what brought her to this point. It's obvious Yi is cute and endearing in her own disheveled look but it's unclear why she chose to embark on this quest. While her brand of humor is entertaining we're still left wanting to know more as the film progresses. Once we come to terms with the idea that it is unlikely we will know if the protagonist we see onscreen is the real Yi, hopefully we can enjoy the journey.
After interviewing fellow actors and friends like Martin Starr and Seth Rogen, she decides to travel cross-country with a small film crew and hit up the requisite, supposed "random people" for their take on love. Along with biologists, newlyweds, and seasoned lovebirds, Yi also encounters a a romance novelist, a psychic, a divorce lawyer and a Las Vegas Elvis minister. The most creative and lively moments can be seen when the interviewees back stories are illustrated with hand-made dioramas and paper cut-out figures. The biker-bar run-in, similar to PeeWee Herman's, was a bit stereotypical; as one patron described love as 'thirty minutes in the back seat'. Sigh. The high point though was Yi's interaction with with a playground full of kids in Atlanta, who freely offer their advice on love; some with wisdom well beyond their years. The answers and explanations given certainly run the gamut on love. There are moments here of heart and truth that rise above the expected hilarity and quirk.
Throughout this process, things get complicated when the crew goes back to Los Angeles where Yi is introduced to actor Michael Cera (playing Michael Cera playing Michael Cera) at a party. We see her not making a big deal out of her increased communication with Cera while traveling and filming continue. Like a high schooler brushing off any acknowledgement of possible infatuation, she finds herself falling for him and the two eventually hit it off as they tentatively date. Jasonevec sees this budding romance as an ironic opportunity and starts to film Charlyne and Michael every chance he gets. After all, she's doing a movie about love and the lack thereof and then this happens: it's perfect!
Since they are both playing themselves, it's hard to determine if this budding non-romance is really happening. Their scenes together, performed with a dash of improv, rarely rely on the script and their whole relationship confirms that love can be found when you're least looking for it. It should be noted though that Yi and Cera are supposedly dating off screen. That may be why he agreed to this role to begin with but it's difficult to see what exactly Cera brings to the role of boyfriend except that he's nice, kinda funny and seems to share common interests with Yi. In a scene where the two of them are recording music together, it becomes clear that could be all she needed.
The concept of the film was created and written by both Yi and Jasenovec, and takes a life all it's own once the cameras start rolling. Jasenovec is played by actor Jake M. Johnson (last seen in "Redbelt") which was the first "huh?"moment that makes you realize this wasn't a straight-up doc seeing as how there was someone playing the director. The beginning is enjoyable and interesting in it's "woman on the street" feel as we see Yi asking random passerbys in Vegas what love is. It felt real. Yet once we notice the director was clearly played by another person, it's an unfortunate ripcord effect which leaves one continuously trying to determine how close this movie represents reality.
The awkwardness of the relationship scenes felt real but something seemed to be missing. It was difficult to care for these two because we were given nothing to invest in. You really need to be a steady fan of Cera to swallow all his trademark antics and if you're not, that could be distracting. Another problem might be Yi herself. If we knew more of her before seeing this film, it might be easier to root for her. We briefly come close when we see her among her family as she introduced Cera to them. She can be very interesting and often funny here but it's a lil distracting that you cannot tell whether she is 13 or 33 years old (turns out she's 23), plus, it's even hard to tell if that smile and laugh of hers is genuine or simply a case of social anxiety. Why is she doing all this? What is she trying to show (or tell) the audience about love? Is it all part of the film's character or is this really Yi? It's never clear.
If you have that many questions after going along with such a journey, then you have to wonder if time was well spent. In the end, I have no idea what this film is trying to say. It just seems chock full of many of the endless cliches on love that we already know. That's too bad since there is enough creativity, humor and heart going on here....then again, maybe this paper heart is a bit too thin
"Paper Heart" has a U.S. release date of August 7th (limited) & August 14th (wide)