Just for Laughs 2009 – Paper Heart
Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec
A peculiar blend of romantic comedy, documentary, and mockumentary, Nicholas Jasevonec’s Paper Heart is a charming, unique concoction that, to its detriment, doesn’t offer very much to linger on once the lights go up.
The film “begins” as a straight documentary, with its principal subject (comedian Charlyne Yi, playing “herself”) travelling the US in search of cogent evidence of the existence of love, a concept she herself is skeptical about. In between the interviews with real-life subjects (most of them couples who have been together for decades, imparting their wisdom upon Yi), Yi meets Michael Cera, and they quickly form a close bond, one that becomes complicated by the constant presence of Jasenovec (played onscreen by Jake Johnson) and the rest of the documentary crew, who, for the sake of consistency, decide they must capture every moment of their increasingly intimate relationship.
Paper Heart works best as a feather-light romantic comedy and an amusing, if unambitious doc – separately. Jasenovec never convincingly draws a line between the two elements, which hurts the film in the long run. That’s too bad, because Yi and Cera, as well as some of Yi’s interview subjects, generate genuine laughs despite keeping the tone friendly and good-natured. (That’s a feat in and of itself, given the state of mainstream comedy over the last few years, which has been mired mostly in the realms of the puerile and the aggressively frattish.) Yi herself is a refreshing lead, depicted as a tentative, shy tomboy who seeks counsel from strangers and appears to be genuinely interested in their views and experiences. Her scenes with Cera (barring the trite last act, in which the necessary “conflict” arises) are touching and very funny, helped along by their unforced chemistry and Cera’s limited but undeniable comedic gifts; he has a way of wringing laughs out of incredibly banal situations, as in one scene where he fake-huffs his way out of a date, then takes far longer than intended to find his way back to the table.
For all of its cutesy songs, fanciful animated sequences, and clever editing tricks, though, Paper Heart feels weirdly forgettable, which is most likely a function of its piecemeal construction. For all of its questioning of romantic norms, the “romance” that does end up taking over the narrative seemingly obscures the search for answers, and instead we wind up with a collection of vignettes, ranging from the amusing to the occasioanlly very funny, and nothing more – a nice mid-summer trifle. Yi and Jasenovec have hinted at a possible television show; that venue would be much better-suited to their strange talents.