At the Michigan
3 out of 5 stars
Love is not easily defined, and in a similar respect, “Paper Heart” is not a movie that falls into any clear category. It is neither documentary nor mockumentary, but an odd and intriguing combination of both. Charlyne Yi (Charlyne Yi, “Knocked Up”) is a girl who does not believe in love. Trying to understand it, she goes on a road trip with friend and director Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake M. Johnson, “Red Belt”) to film a documentary. Along the way, Charlyne meets Michael Cera (Michael Cera, “Year One”) who she may or may not love. Further adding to the movie’s mixture of fiction and reality, Yi and Cera dated in real life.
Needless to say, the pair has nauseatingly cute on-screen chemistry, but that’s not due in any way to either performer’s acting skills. Cera always plays a character similar to himself, the only difference is that this time his character’s name is actually Michael Cera. Yi also plays herself, but her presence is far more refreshing than Cera’s. She is awkward and endearing in a way that Cera only wishes he could be. Yi is particularly funny when she interviews a gang of hairy, gritty bikers and somehow ends up on the back of a motorcycle. She even interviews Seth Rogen and manages to stand her own against his massive comedic presence.
Though it plays a significant role, the relationship between Cera and Yi is not the film’s main appeal. While the romance provides a potential but dubious answer to whether or not Yi is capable of loving another person, the film could have been better had their relationship been left out of it completely.
As a matter of fact, some of the best parts of the movie are when neither Yi nor Cera is on screen. “Heart” shines when couples or individuals are filmed trying to define love or share their stories in the vein of “When Harry Met Sally.” Because of the combination of fact and fiction, the film does not delve deeply into Yi’s documentary or her relationship with Cera. It’s neither a romantic comedy nor an exposé about discovering the meaning of love. Since Yi’s interviews and encounters on her cross-country trip are more engaging than the romantic plot line, “Paper Heart” should have stayed focused on discovering the meaning and source of love.
It may be shallow, but the film is cute and thought-provoking. It doesn’t explore its subject — love — too deeply, but it manages to succeed by twisting real-life truth with on-screen fiction. And its funny vignettes featuring paper cutouts communicate parts of the story well.
“Paper Heart” is a sincere movie, and the on-screen presence of Charlyne Yi gives it an honesty and openness that doesn’t spoil the idea of love with too many red roses and Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards. While neither the audience members nor the film’s performers will have learned anything insightful by the end of the movie, “Paper Heart” does leave viewers with the exciting sensation of a flourishing summer fling.