Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Review: Paper Heart

Well, you know, they can't all be winners. Paper Heart was a little movie I thought had a chance to be quite good. Instead, it's a little movie that is just that: it has little actual spark, little substance, and little laughs. Also, I'm now worried for this woman:

She may well be mentally challenged in some way but I'm afraid people believe it to be an act. We may need to stage an intervention. At any rate, here's the review.

Que Cera, Cera?
Paper Heart and the mystery of Michael Cera

The degree to which you enjoy Paper Heart depends on whether you wish to deliver harm or hugs to its lead, Charlyne Yi, whose on-screen persona is basically that of a hipster Forrest Gump. Writer/director Nick Jasenovec’s film is a mash-up of a documentary and a fictional romantic comedy filtered through a not-quite-as-charming-as-he-thinks lens of quirk, the result of which is the equivalent of a clichéd Valentine’s card written by Kings of Leon. Paper Heart is a sometimes endearing, often trite and ultimately inconsequential endeavor that feels like the sort that would be lauded as genius if Jasenovec was in his teens.

The concept is that Yi, whose dimples have their own area code, doesn’t believe in and has never been in love. This cloyingly convenient premise leads to Jasenovec’s proposal that Yi travel around the country (mostly in the southern Midwest) and talk to random people, philosophers, scientists and other assorted odd folks to better understand what love is. The fictional element emerges when Yi meets real-life boyfriend, Michael Cera, who continues to defend his crown as the king of charming awkwardness. Interspliced between segments animated with paper-and-fabric puppets re-enacting the sticky-sweet stories told by the people Yi interviews, Cera and Yi engage in a bizarre reimagined version of their actual courtship, jam-packed with all of your favorite romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute,” the “convenient misunderstanding” and the “what are you doing here on my porch” reunion.

It’s easy to see where Jasenovec, who appears on camera almost as much as Yi or Cera, believed that he and Yi were being clever. That they chose to basically attempt to shake-up the rom-com format by shattering the fourth wall is well-intentioned if not well-executed. The problem is primarily two-fold: the interviewees are as spectacularly ordinary as the interviewer is nutty, and the whole Cera and Yi courtship feels like spying on the two kids from high-school you thought would be alone forever while they try to practice making out. Their “first-kiss” follows a grocery shopping excursion that feels like an outtake from I Am Sam.

In fact, the only time during the film when Yi seems at home is when she questions children on a playground, which is easily the most entertaining segment. The hygiene-challenged, self-described musician/comedian seems most comfortable talking about cooties. Paper Heart’s entire premise is that Yi is watchable, a premise that is not automatically bankable.

Look, there is nothing wrong with a tiny independent film that blends docu-style with romantic truisms. It just isn’t anywhere near as “special” as its lead seems to be. The lingering question from the movie has nothing to do with whether Yi is capable of love or some new definition of that emotion; it mostly has to do with Michael Cera. Is he really the physical incarnate of geek chic or has he become so submerged in his craft that even he no longer knows where his persona stops and his actual person begins? Sadly, we may never know.

Grade - C

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