The Throb of Love Is Feeble in Mockumentary 'Paper Heart'
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Aug. 7, 2009
Something cold and calculating lies at the center of "Paper Heart," an ingratiating, mostly mock documentary by comedian and actress Charlyne Yi ("Knocked Up").
A shy, bespectacled tomboy who proudly lets her dork flag fly, Yi announces at the beginning of the movie that she doesn't believe in love, then sets off with a film crew across the American South to interview real-life couples about their long-term, failed and budding relationships. (The movie's director, Nicholas Jasenovec, is played in the film by Jake Johnson.)
Lots of these stories are genuinely touching; especially moving are a story about the birth of a couple's second child, and an absolutely gripping story involving a family court judge and the comely attorney he wins over. But Yi's illustrations of these tales, using folksy, yarn-and-cardboard puppet shows, reek of condescension.
And the faux naivete really begins to grate when Yi "meets" actor Michael Cera and they embark on what purports to be their real-life relationship, but is really a coy, fictionalized version thereof. Yi and Cera may or may not have been or continue to be a real-life couple; they've kept their status ambiguous, most likely for marketing purposes. The real question is, How do people in their mid-20s continue to get away with talking in baby voices? And the next question is, How do we make them stop?
Unlike the sublime "(500) Days of Summer," which also had to do with young romance, ambivalence and rethinking the notion of happy endings, "Paper Heart" never transcends its twee, hyper-self-aware niche. The degree to which viewers will enjoy Yi's ramblings -- literal and verbal -- is no doubt directly proportional to their enjoyment of the fey, studiously awkward persona she's developed in her stand-up act and movie roles. (She played the lone chick in Seth Rogen's stoner posse in "Knocked Up"; Rogen and his fellow Judd Apatow rep players show up here in cameos.)
"Paper Heart" might be the ideal rom-com for the Facebook generation, with its fondness for stunts and narcissistic need for disclosure. But Yi's self-regarding, ironic tone makes the whole thing feel like a setup, designed more as an indie-chic calling card than a sincere inquiry.
At one point Yi visits a roadside psychic, who predicts that her romance with Cera will have something to do with career advancement. Johnson, playing Jasenovec, apologizes to Yi for subjecting her to a con, but by the time "Paper Heart" ends -- appropriately enough, with a preposterous tall tale -- it turns out that the scam artist might have had Yi's number all along.