Sundance 2009 Review: Charlyne Yi's Paper Heart
by Alex Billington
January 26, 2009
There are always a handful of films at Sundance that I go into with low expectations and walk out of loving. Paper Heart was one of them. By the time I had heard about its mockumentary style, I had pretty much lost all interest. But what I discovered in the end was an original, entertaining, and above all, very charming film about discovering love. But I've got some problems with it, especially its conclusion. As for quirky romantic comedies though, if I can even call this one, Paper Heart is one of the better films from Sundance this year with that label. And if you're a fan of Michael Cera or Charlyne Yi, it's certainly worth checking out.
Paper Heart is a fake documentary, meaning it's shot and told in the documentary style, but was actually scripted and performed. Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera do play themselves, though, and it's primarily about them. Yi is a comedian who, per the prodding of a filmmaker friend, decides to explore the idea of whether love really exists (and if she can ever find it). She has never believed in it, so she sets off with her filmmaker friend (played by Jake Johnson) to travel around the US conducting interviews with couples. Along the way she meets Michael Cera and starts up a relationship with him. But is it love or just a friendship?
That's the question that the film tries to answer over a series of often amusing interviews in combination with the comedic antics of Charlyne Yi. For those who are not particularly used to her personality or style of comedy, it takes a little while to get used to, but once you're well into the film, you'll be laughing wildly and grinning as the real story within unfolds. Part of what makes it so fun to watch is that Yi and Cera have a natural chemistry (they're actually a couple in real life) and they don't want the cameras to follow them, because they want to be a couple on their own, with some privacy. But Johnson knows that this is the "good stuff" and demands they keep following them just in case "something" happens.
As for that conclusion that didn't sit well with me, without spoiling too much, the film just sort of ends abruptly, without giving us an answer to that aforementioned question, or even any question at all. I do realize that the ending is left open for personal interpretation, but I feel like the most common explanation I've heard only makes me more frustrated. It's as if they planned all along to trick the audience. We were never getting any answer, so why not just have fun, finish it in a different way than everyone was expecting, and allow for open interpretation. Unfortunately, that left me much more aggravated than satisfied.
Although the ending was a bit frustrating, I still thoroughly enjoyed Paper Heart. I don't expect it to become the next Juno or anything like that, but it's still a great romantic comedy (of sorts). While it doesn't uncover anything new about what love is, it does take us on a joy ride through the whims of affection.
Sundance Rating: 8 out of 10