Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paper Heart

How do I know when it's love? That is the question posed by writer/star Charlyne Yi in her "documentary" Paper Heart. Yi's examination of what holds couples together is given shape by her own budding relationship with Michael Cera, who appears as himself and whose inability to handle the constant presence of the documentary crew in Charlyne's life is the source of the movie's drama. Is Paper Heart fact, fiction, or some blending of the two? Yi and everyone else involved have been cagey on the question; my own theory is that Yi set out to make a nonfiction film and then changed creative course when she met Cera.

The "reality" of what we're seeing is less interesting then the form of Paper Heart, which blends bubbly montages of Yi and Cera (set to the two's own music) with Yi's interviews with an assorted cast of celebs and civilians on the road (accompanied by Jake Johnson as the real Paper Heart director Nicholas Jasenovec) and whimsically animated (the animation resembles a moving diorama) reenactments of the love stories told by the couples that Yi interviews. The result is a kind of combination romantic comedy and video blog that reveals more about Charlyne Yi than the subject of love. Shy, irreverent, and sweetly geeky, Yi decides to keep the filming going evn after Cera begins to express reservations. If Julie & Julia is the first film based on a blog then Paper Heart is the first film that could just as easily be a Facebook page full of multimedia, autobiography, and personal ephemera. Yi (a comedian and musician) is self-involved enough to have begun this whole project but the film she has produced is open-hearted enough to make us care when she shows up at Cera's door post break-up. Is it too much to hope for that Charlyne Yi has invented a new genre, a style that combines a young person's genuine curiosity and sweetness with the vagaries of personal experience? Yes, it is probably too much; but I'll be along for the ride the next time Yi tires to figure herself out.

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