The fact that Paper Heart won a screenwriting award at Sundance suggests it’s not a typical documentary. The team of comedian Charlyne Yi and director Nicholas Jasenovec may have actually created a new genre to tell their story about love, both real and imaginary.
The film starts as a traditional documentary as Yi sets out to school herself about love, which she is afraid she may never experience. She travels around the country interviewing a variety of people, single and married, young and old, about their ideas and experiences of love. Some of their stories are reenacted by Yi using homemade puppets, a whimsical and charming touch.
What makes the film unusual is the insertion of a comic subplot in which Yi herself falls into a relationship with actor Michael Cera that allows her to test out some of the ideas she has been hearing from her interview subjects. These scenes feel like one of those “reality” TV shows in which the participants have been given the outline of a story but have to make up the details as they go along.
I have read that Yi and Cera are a real couple, so it’s unclear whether this story is yet another reenactment, or an alternate version of their courtship, or maybe even the start of it. In any event, it’s very engaging, as both performers are gifted at acting (if indeed they are acting) awkward, sweet, and spontaneous.
Another actor plays the film’s director, who is both instigator of the romance and Yi’s confidant as she neurotically questions every twist and turn the new relationship takes. A few minor celebrities (such as Seth Rogan and Demitri Martin), who may or may not be friends of Yi and Cera, appear briefly as themselves.
There are a lot of ways one can approach the subject of love. Yi and Jasenovec portray it as something that happens to you which you have little control over, a sort of happy disease. Watching someone as self-conscious and anxious as Yi reluctantly succumb to it is a lot of fun.
Photo provided by Overture Films