Film Review: Paper Heart

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PARK CITY -- The documentry form continues to evolve with screenwriter-actor Charlyne Yi's "Paper Heart," a self-regarding inquiry into the nature of love and intimacy that's semi-scripted and semi-verite.

Fans of Yi, a performer ("Knocked Up") and stand-up comedian, no doubt will respond enthusiastically -- particularly to the participation of her real-life boyfriend Michael Cera -- but it's unclear whether a wider audience also exists. Any theatrical strategy will need to significantly broaden the film's appeal to gain viable traction, though a broadcast outlet ultimately might be the best bet for further exposure.

Whether experiencing genuine doubt and confusion or adopting a faux-naive demeanor consistent with the super-nerdy comic persona she cultivates for her stand-up routine, Yi claims to be a nonbeliever when it comes to love and resolves to launch a quest to gather the collective wisdom of ordinary people in her search for answers.

She wrangles good friend and director Nicholas Jasenovec, along with a small crew, to assist with her survey as she crosses the country interviewing regular folks and academics in Las Vegas, Nashville, Atlanta, Amarillo, Texas, and a half-dozen other cities about the mysteries of love.

Despite Yi's skepticism about true love, nary a naysayer appears in these interview segments, which include newlyweds, long-term partners, straights and gays. Most of these people's anecdotes are so overwhelmingly prosaic that several are voiced over crude but cute paper-cutout puppetry re-enactments that marginally boost the inherent interest level.

Substituting a stand-in for Jasenovec on camera prompts the first obvious departure from conventional documentary; actor Jake Johnson is brought to play the part of the filmmaker. A parallel plot concerning Yi's growing infatuation with Cera obviates any suggestion of objectivity, introducing a slippery slope of thorny issues, such as whether the film is largely spontaneous or mostly scripted, if participants were rehearsed or fed lines or if Yi and Cera are acting out their actual courtship or an alternate version created to satisfy narrative expectations.

Although some might find "Paper Heart's" meta-film format intriguing, Yi's pursuit of love's secrets ultimately gets overwhelmed by the more conventional subplot tracking her budding "relationship" with Cera, an appealing narrative thread that remains unresolved. To the extent that she's actually acting, Yi's awkward humor elicits a degree of amusement, and Cera's usual deadpan delivery is reliably entertaining.

The film's casual DV production techniques are adequate and ironically most distinctive in the puppetry sequences.

Production company: Paper Heart Prods.
Cast: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson
Director: Nicholas Jasenovec
Screenwriters: Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi
Producers: Sandra Murillo, Elise Salomon
Executive producers: Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi
Director of photography: Jay Hunter
Music: Michael Cera, Charlyne Yi
Editor: Ryan Brown
Sales: UTA
No rating, 88 minutes