paper heart 001Overture Films | USA | 89 minutes

By Miles Trahan

Perhaps the most interesting thing about love is how it means so many different things to so many different people. One need only view Paper Heart for a clear illustration of this; over the course of the film various individuals both young and old wax poetic about what love means to them — a lighting bolt to the heart, the unsung bond between two individuals, a fleeting, momentary distraction subject to change or fizzle out at any given moment. What makes a concept like love so interesting is that its dictated entirely by human experiences, and can take on so many forms we may not be able to recognize it even when its right under our noses. For some people, love may not even be a tangible “thing” at all.

For perpetually giggling comedian Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up), love is about as real as Santa Claus — a myth to be bought into, a pure fantasy. In fact for Yi love is so allusive she decides to make a boldfaced documentary about it, hoping in the process to figure out just what the heck all this nonsense is really all about. Setting out on a cross-country road trip with friend and accomplice Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake M. Johnson, playing real-life director Nicholas Jasenovec), Yi questions a variety of “experts” — including doctors, psychics and celebrity pals like Seth Rogen and Demetri Martin — about what exactly love is, how one knows when they are truly in love and how that love can shift and shape relationships between unsuspecting individuals. Claiming to have never experienced love herself Yi refuses to buy into the idea altogether,  attempting to expose it for the hollow safety blanket it truly is; what she gets instead is an arrow straight to the heart. As luck would have it (or so we are lead to believe) at a Hollywood houseparty Yi is introduced to Michael Cera (Superbad), who quickly takes a liking to her. In fact he is so smitten he more or less begins to stalk her, “randomly” showing up at odd times during the shoot to work his flaky charm on Yi; and, despite her best efforts, she eventually reciprocates. In the process the documentary becomes less about “exposing” love for the fraudulent concept it is than charting a fledgling relationship in the making, indeed proving that love may not be such a wily beast after all.

Paper Heart toes the line between documentary and “mockumentary” admirably; while the scenes showcasing the blossoming romance between Cera and Yi (all painstakingly captured by Jasenovec’s so-called “film crew”, much to the couple’s chagrin) are clearly fictional and rehearsed, where the film really strikes a chord — and where it’s true, beating heart lies — is in the collection of real interviews sprinkled throughout (sometimes with accompanying dramatization, as acted out by crude hand puppets), in which the participants offer their own analysis about love and share stories about the love they’ve experienced in their own lives. We hear a wide array of stories — some sour, some unabashedly sweet, and some downright heart-wrenching — from a wide array of people that are simultaneously charming, entertaining and often enlightening. In fact these stories are so interesting one can’t help but wish the film focused a bit more on them and a bit less on the quote-unquote “romance” between Yi and Cera, which comes awfully close to derailing the whole thing on a few occasions; indeed the film proves that, at the end of the day, real people with real stories are far more interesting than stock characters following a stock script. In its own quiet way, Paper Heart is rather life-affirming: Not only does it make a strong case for love, but it makes a strong case for humanity.

8.5 out of 10

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