Monday, August 10, 2009

"Paper Heart" Review

"Paper Heart" is everything you'd expect from a post "Juno" Sundance darling, which is probably enough information in itself to color your opinion of the film. First-time feature director Nicholas Jasenovec's pseudo-documentary examines the fictional relationship between comedienne Charlyne Yi ("Knocked Up," "Semi-Pro"), whose thesis is that she is incapable of love, and her real-life boyfriend, Michael Cera, who's fast becoming the festival's crowned prince. The footage is spliced together with decidedly ho-hum celebrity interviews (Seth Rogen, Demitri Martin are featured) nonchalantly credited as "Charlyne's Friends," experts in the psychology of love, and real couples recounting the foundation of their relationships, aided by ultra low-fi reenactments by Yi featuring rag dolls and paper sets.

The film is wholly indie, hitting the familiar beats and consulting that worn checklist (awkward quirky character's self-written guitar sequence--check). It's too cute and well meaning to dismiss outright, but for a film about love, it has nothing particularly profound to say on the subject. So "Paper Heart" seems then a fitting (if self-deprecating) title for the piece in that the real elements are supporting a merely average fiction, rather than the scripted segments bolstering a real love story: the heart of the film is flimsy, two-dimensional.

"Paper Heart" is in large part not compelling because we know it's fake. The audience second-guesses any potentially genuine moment between Yi and Cera, reducing the documentary elements to supplemental gimmickry and each awkward giggle to a calculation. The structure of the film is fairly formated (narrative/interview/reenactment/narrative), assumedly with the intention of keeping any one of the film's components from growing stale, but it almost has the opposite effect. The grating sequence of scene types ends up highlighting how little the filmmakers really have on their plate. The ending then scrapes the bottom of the barrel, taking a page from Herzog's "Grizzly Man" in its snooty refusal to share a piece of audio (here a post break-up conversation between Yi and Cera), but if the restricted information is fictional, who do they imagine cares?

Jasenovec and Yi, who's credited as co-writer, developed some intriguing concepts to be sure, and the premise sounds enlightening, but the utterly average romance between she and her co-star diffuses any potential... well, potential. What have we learned about love by the end of the hour and a half? Certainly nothing we couldn't have gleaned from a hundred other PG-13 romantic comedies.

"Paper Heart" does have a clear audience in mind, and it's fair to note I'm not it. The film will satisfy most and delight probably a few less traveled moviegoers. Approach it as a fictional film, and you may be less let down. The characters are mostly charming (save for the faux director played by a smarmy Jake M. Johnson), and there are a handful of legitimate laughs to be had.

Just don't listen to the Sundance hype that would have you believe every two-bit indie film coming off the assembly line is a revelation compared to Hollywood's weekly drivel. The truth is that independent films, particularly comedies, are becoming increasingly generic and exponentially more mainstream.

"Paper Heart" is likeable enough, but is still a long shot from innovation.


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