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
Recommended If You Like: Borat, Religulous, Juno