Anchor Bay // 2009 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // December 1st, 2009
A story about love that's taking on a life of its own.
As far as indie comedies go, Paper Heart is a refreshing piece of work. It's part documentary, part mockumentary, and part traditional romantic comedy. But these classifications are merely a technicality, and your enjoyment of the film rests on the slouching shoulders of one bright, young comic: Charlyne Yi.
Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up) doesn't believe in love. She doesn't understand it, and she's never experienced it. So she sets off on a road trip with documentary filmmaker Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake M. Johnson, Redbelt) to document her exploration, interviewing real Americans about their experiences with the touchy subject.
During the filmmaking process, Charlyne (or "Chuck," as Nick calls her) meets Michael Cera (Juno), and the two begin to date. Much to her chagrin, Charlyne begins to fall for Michael.
You'll spend a good bit of Paper Heart wondering how much of it is real, and how much is improvised, staged, or scripted. The opening montage of Yi on the streets of Las Vegas, interviewing the weirdoes that march around her, feels too awkward to be staged. The honest couples she speaks to across the country tell tales too perfect to be scripted. And Yi's relationship with Michael Cera is too precious to be real. In other words, everything you feel is real is probably fake, and everything that could be fake might be real.
Yi's exploration on the subject of love is fascinating. She doesn't get it, and it seems like everyone she interviews does. She speaks to average folks, like a judge and a lawyer who have been married for years, a divorced man who says his life was saved by a vision of his ex-wife, and a gang of bikers whose collective love centers around a dusty dive bar. She speaks to wedding chapel owners in Vegas (including an Elvis impersonator), a romance author, a playground full of children, and more. Just hearing everyone's take on true love is enough for a real documentary, and you begin to think that maybe we're all capable of such experiences.
Throughout the film, Charlyne's hounded by her director, Nick Jasenovec. Well, he's the director in reality, but in the film he's portrayed by Jake Johnson. On the surface, Nick is a demanding professional, reminding Charlyne that she agreed to be followed by a camera at all times, even if that means ruining her dates with Michael. He's also clearly her best friend, and he wants her to be happy and find some closure on this whole love thing. While his constant presence becomes more rote as the film progresses, Johnson is so likable as Jasenovec that it's hard to hate.
Even her discussions with her friends, like Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks), Seth Rogen (Observe and Report), and Demetri Martin (Taking Woodstock), are enjoyable; it's the presence of these fine folks that eventually bring Charlyne to a party where she'll meet Mr. Cera. At this point the fictional side of the film begins to take over. Perhaps it's been there all along, but the subplot of Michael and Charlyne getting together brings it to the forefront.
Paper Heart becomes more traditional after the introduction of Cera's character. Slowly Charlyne warms up to Michael's awkward be-hoodied personality, and she eventually starts to miss him while on the road filming her documentary. She still refuses to admit that she "loves" him, but you get the feeling she at least likes him likes him. Their somewhat conventional indie relationship, complete with Super8 home movies and lo-fi musical tastes, isn't as fascinating as the actual subject of her documentary, but it manages to feel fresh because of the still-lingering presence of the camera crew. The movie never breaks the illusion that it's all one big documentary.
Paper Heart looks great, by the way. Most of the documentary stuff is a little grainy and hand-held, but the colors and the clarity remain strong. The film's real signature shot, however, is during the love testimonials. After Charlyne finishes her interview, Jasenovec cuts to a wide-angle two-shot of the couple as they relay a story to the audience. The shots are lit and framed beautifully. Then the movie cuts to a re-enactment of the story using paper puppets from Charlyne. It's a cool style that helps break up the movie visually. The sound is also very good, especially since much of it comes from man-on-the-street style footage.
The disc is packed with a ream's worth of special features (zing!), including deleted scenes, featurettes, and music videos. The deleted scenes, totaling around 30 minutes, are a mix of extended cuts and more moments with Nick. There are some funny scenes, but most of them deserved to be left out of the film. Also included are promo interviews with a whole score of comedians. These brief videos are hysterical and feature the likes of Bobcat Goldthwait, Jason Ritter, Paul Rust, Bill Hader, Human Giant, and more. The "making of" featurette offers some insight into the mockumentary style of the film, but sadly we don't get to see how Yi made those puppet scenes. The other featurette is more like a gag reel -- you know how that goes. Lastly, there are two musical featurettes, one a montage of Yi's traditional stage show and a second featuring the song "Heaven," which Cera and Yi composed for the film. It's a really impressive collection of supplements, to say the least.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of the movie will rest on how much you like Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera. If you find their neurotic, introverted, personality-driven brand of comedy to be off-putting, then you won't find this movie enjoyable in the slightest. I like Yi's style, and Cera's been reliably hilarious ever since he was a Bluth. Like so many other indie romcoms, it's ultimately about loving the characters' quirky personalities. This movie's got plenty of quirk.
For those interested, rest assured that Anchor Bay has done a great job packing this little film with plenty of extra features. This is one solid release.
Review content copyright © 2009 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Music Videos
* Official Site