Sundance: Paper Heart Review

Paper Heart
Directed by: Nicholas Jasenovec
Written by: Charlyne Yi and Nicholas Jasenovec
Starring: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake M. Johnson

There haven’t been a ton of movies getting buzz so far at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but one that did receive some attention ahead of time (especially judging by the size of the wait line) is Paper Heart starring Michael Cera of Arrested Development / Superbad fame and his real-life girlfriend Charlyne Yi. Yi is perhaps best known as the stoner girl from Knocked Up, but she is also a comedian and musician. Judd Apatow had been saying for a while now that he thinks she could be the next big thing… will Paper Hearts be the film that finally catapults her to stardom?

Make no mistake, Paper Heart is not a Judd Apatow production, and it’s a far cry from the bromantic comedy genre that most of Apatow’s cohorts have found success with. In fact, Paper Heart has more in common with Larry Charles’ Borat and Religulous than it does with Knocked Up. Initially the film starts as a straight-up documentary, with Yi on a quest to find out whether or not love truly exists. She hits the road with first-time director Nicholas Jasenovec, interviewing people all across the U.S. about their thoughts on the nature of love.

The movie changes after she attends a party with the camera crew and meets Michael Cera for the first time. The two hit it off, and from here on in, her budding relationship with Cera becomes a central part of the movie. The documentary crew starts to follow them on dates as Yi refuses to admit that she might be in love. Here is where the movie becomes multi-layered and potentially confusing. Their relationship on-screen is fictional (although partially improvised), but is used to tie together the interviews with other subjects, which are real. Get it? The movie continually makes reference to the fact that there is a film crew on the other side of the camera, which leads to some of the biggest laughs.

It is basically Charlyne’s show from start to finish, and while I don’t think she’s entirely hilarious when she is left to her own devices, she is very cute, loveable, and easy to root for. It also helps that her desire to find answers about love is genuine (as are her feelings for Cera). She manages to write some of her musical skills into the movie, and creates crude cardboard puppet sequences in order to “act out” some of the stories that various couples tell about their relationships. It’s clear that she is a very unique talent, and I am guessing that this movie is just the tip of the iceberg.

Not only is Paper Heart charming and funny, but it’s also cleverly constructed and refreshingly original. I absolutely loved this movie, but the thing that scares me about it is that I suspect it’s going to be an easy target for cynics. If it does get an eventual wide release, a backlash is inevitable because it’s all very cute and sensitive, and completely devoid of crass humour. Michael Cera himself is already starting to suffer a backlash of his own, but I’ll defend him: I still happen to think the guy is hilarious. Yeah he plays that same dorky, nervous character over and over again, but his genius lies in his odd delivery and ability to stumble over unexpected one-liners.

Paper Heart is a movie unlike anything you’ve seen before, but it’s not gimmicky or forced. Somehow it just works, and credit must also go to director Nicholas Jasenovec who co-wrote it with Yi. What is the meaning of love? Is it just a biological reaction to a psychological state, or is there also something magical about it? Paper Heart doesn’t have all the answers, but if there’s one thing it teaches us, it is that laughter brings us all a little bit closer together. — Sean

SCORE: 4 stars

Recommended If You Like: Borat, Religulous, Juno

Around the Web:

  • I think Cera would make a great temp for “The Office”.

  • Rick

    Good call Tomas.

  • Rick, I was inspired to make that comment after seeing this about him:

  • Neil M

    I’m happy that this doesn’t suck. It definitely looks interesting. Same character or not, Cera is pretty damn hilarious. Now when the hell can the rest of us see it?

  • I hate it when people say things like, this is the next Juno, or Little Miss Sunshine. But I have a feeling this one is.

  • Isn’t this more like the same Juno and the same Little Miss Sunshine than the next? I think I’m out of these flicks for now.

  • Henrik, I say that it will be the next Juno or Little Miss Sunshine, but from seans description i don’t think its like those movie. I just use that to say that I think this movie is going to get distribution and maybe even launch a few careers.

  • Take a look at this crazy swedish film-quote-quiz-song… How many quotes can you recognize???

  • Roxie

    Sound like a must see for me, Let me know when I can see it in the UK.


  • Bob The Slob

    michael cera is wearing a hooding jacket? who would have thought!

  • Bob The Slob

    *hoodie jacket

  • I love the idea of a film starting off as a documentary and then morphing off into something different. Jay, are there other movies that have done this sort of thing?

    Sean, your review of this movie has made it a must-see movie for me. I love the title of the film. I hope it has an unhappy ending. :-)

    P.S. If I do end up liking this film, then your review of this film will make up for your Gran Torino review. Ha ha.

  • Henrik, did you even bother to read the review? Do you mean the films sounds like those other movies in terms of general style or how audiences will react to them (the critical darling of the year) or did you mean a similar sort of storyline/good natured comedy?

    According to Sean’s description, it sounds nothing like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno to me.

  • IchigoNL

    What do Little Miss Sunshine and Juno even have in common? Still people keep comparing them…

  • The main thing is that they’re both indie comedies that premiered at Sundance and went on to be big commercial hits. There is a similar kind of vibe to them I guess… kind of an ironic, “twee” sensibility (although I hate that word). But in terms of Paper Heart, it really is very different from those films, even if it might appeal to the same audience and have some similar elements (music, for example).

  • Actually scratch that, Juno premiered at TIFF. So yeah, another similarity shot down.

  • Mookie

    Saw it at Sundance. This is a hideously bad movie. The dirty little secret is that she set off to make a documentary, couldn’t pull it off, so they fake it. Cera is good (as usual), but she is the single most irritating character to appear on the screen in my lifetime.

  • If that’s the “dirty little secret” then I’d say they salvaged it pretty well. It sounded to me like they had it all scripted from day one though.

  • Herve

    Sounds really good. Would love to see it. Lemme know when it comes out in Canada, more specifically Vancouver.

  • monica

    This review is a$$-backwards. This film shouldnt be compared to an academy award winning movie like little miss sunshine that included massively talented actors like toni collette. Juno had great dialogue and its characters had charm and wit. This film has none of that. Charlyne was acceptable in knocked up because she appeared for about 30 seconds… a full feature with just her?… I think I’ll pass!

  • craig

    This review has to be from someone involved in the film. This movie is incredibly boring and awful. If you think it is entertaining to watch the stars of the Superbad film talk about love in a documentary style, then go for it.
    This is an egocentric and painfully boring talk show. It tells me these kids are losing touch with reality and letting stardom go to their heads. How incredibly conceited to think anyone wants to sit and listen to their thoughts on love.

  • sandra

    i don’t know who charlyne is as a comedian but this is totally indulgent. It is cLearly staged and the only redeeming feature are those who tell their stories and somehow you get the feeling they are being mocked – yet they are the backbone of the film – not the tragically staged romance – shame on you michael sera. charlyne has the most irritating voice strangely monotone – surely it increases those that don’t ever want to watch her comedy…she is such a creep -such a lack of talent and so much self belief – TRAGIC