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Dustin Putman

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Paper Heart  (2009)
3 Stars
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec.
Cast: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, Jake Johnson, Seth Rogen, Demetri Martin, Martin Starr.
2009 – 89 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 30, 2009.
Adorable. That is the word that most fittingly describes everything about "Paper Heart," a documentary/fiction hybrid with one pressing subject on its mind: love. The director of the film is Nicholas Jasenovec, making his feature debut, but the director within the film, also named Nick, is played by actor Jake Johnson. This sort of sneaky melding of reality and scripted material repeats itself over and over, making it sometimes difficult to discern between the two. The best advice to be given to prospective viewers is to not even bother trying and just let the warm, funny and engaging story work its ample magic.

The star of the project is young comedienne-actress Charlyne Yi (2007's "Knocked Up"), a quirky, endlessly watchable presence whose instant appeal factor is off the charts. She has never been in love—indeed, she has only ever had one boyfriend, a guy whose drug-addled appearance she mistook for natural brooding—and is unsure if she even believes in it. With her friend and director, Nick (Jake Johnson), in tow, Charlyne sets out across the country, stopping everywhere from Las Vegas to Nashville to Oklahoma City to Amarillo, hoping that she might gain some insight on the meaning of love and the possibilities that it holds. While filming continues, something interesting happens: Charlyne meets Michael Cera (playing himself) at a party and can't help but start to like him. As the two go on dates and get closer, the pressure of their burgeoning relationship being constantly filmed threatens to put a strain on things. It doesn't help that Charlyne still is not sure if she is capable of romantic love in the way that she has seen from her myriad interview subjects.

Light and airy, but also perceptive and immensely entertaining, "Paper Heart" is one of the sweetest cinematic confections of the year. It doesn't exactly add up to a great deal, and there are no huge revelations, but when one couple who have been married for fifty years explain love to Charlyne as when you can't imagine your life without the other person, it is as accurate as any description could be. Big laughs arrive simply from the capturing of human nature and on-the-fly comments within the various interview segments—a little girl on a playground surmises that taking someone to Applebee's and buying them hot wings is the best way to show someone you love them—while the slightly more set-up parts between Charlyne and Michael still clearly come from an emotionally honest place. As two souls who are both a little offbeat and uncomfortable in their actions and body language, they seem perfect for each other. They make walking around a grocery store for thirty minutes searching without success for something to buy for dinner look irresistibly cute. Their sort-of love story nicely compliments Charlyne's original motives in making the movie, proving that romance can arrive when you least expect it.

Also an absolutely winning addition is the random visualizations of people's stories via puppeteered dioramas. Creative and hilarious, the reenactments—from one man's epiphany during a near-drowning to a judge's chivalrous methods of wooing a co-worker during a rainstorm—highlight the humor and earnestness of the tales without turning them into a mockery. A trip to a psychic is another highlight in the picture, with the kooky Madame claiming that Michael is with Charlyne for financial gain. "But I don't have any money," Charlyne says in disbelief. "He's more successful than me." An interview with a welcomed non-stereotypical gay couple in New York City who have been together for ten years hits many truths of their relationship and helps to broaden the spectrum of love relationships. A valiant, but failed, further attempt at this: visiting the Los Angeles Zoo and observing the monkeys.

The third act of "Paper Heart" finds Charlyne and Nick receiving the funds to fly to Paris for a few days. Michael was intended to accompany them, but backs out when he feels like the project is attempting to manipulate a fairy tale ending for them. As Charlyne walks around the city, her mind preoccupied and her heart not in it, the resulting feeling it rustles up is one of distinct loneliness. When it is uncovered why she is so upset—and it is not just because she and Michael have had a falling-out—it is enough to break one's heart. The climactic trip to Michael hometown of Toronto, and the final diorama interlude, this one of Charlyne's more cinematic, decidedly comical, fantasy ending with Michael, send things out on a high note. "Paper Heart" is adorable, all right, and Charlyne Yi is a new star in the making.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman