By Don Simpson | August 12, 2009
Director: Nicholas Jasenovec
Writer(s): Nicholas Jasenovec, Charlyne Yi
Starring: Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera
Comedian and actress Charlyne Yi (Charlyne Yi) is a skeptic – heck, she is a downright curmudgeon – when it comes to love; however, she is curious enough about all the hype that she decides to embark upon a quest to find out more about love. Charlyne joins forces with director and friend Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake Johnson) and his documentary crew, as they journey across the United States interviewing people of all ages, ethnicities and spiritual backgrounds about their experiences with love.
We know from the get-go that Charlyne will not be easily convinced, even if love were to walk right up and slap her across the face – and this right here is where Michael Cera (Michael Cera) comes in. Charlyne meets Michael at a party and their friendship slowly simmers into a romantic relationship throughout the course of Charlyne’s documentary. As Charlyne interviews people about their experiences with love, she too begins to question herself about how she feels about Michael. Unfortunately for Charlyne and Michael, being filmed 24/7 does not allow for their relationship to kindle very naturally – the stress of the unblinking kino eye glaring at them thus begins to tear the lovebirds apart.
Paper Heart is an intelligent and complex film in terms of both its structure and narrative. The film seamlessly weaves between reality and fiction, blurring and breaking the traditional boundaries that separate narrative and documentary cinema. Yi and Cera are not Hollywood sex symbols stuck in the confines of a formulaic romantic comedy; instead, they are perfectly natural and authentic (albeit a wee bit twee and precious), their dialogue is organic and the plot seems to be determined not by a writer or director but solely by destiny. We know Yi and Cera are mere players on the silver screen, yet it is difficult to distinguish between the reality and the fiction.
In our world, which is currently saturated with so much so-called reality television (most of which is carefully scripted, cast and directed; all of which is edited and produced), the realness of reality is fading away. This is precisely why so many gossip rags are assuming that Yi and Cera’s relationship is more than just fiction – or maybe they care just hoping (since Yi and Cera seem to be a perfect match for each other, or at least their Paper Heart others).
Confusion caused by the documentary (as well as docudrama and mockumentary) format is nothing new. Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (widely recognized as the first commercially successful feature length documentary) from 1922 has alone generated 87 years of debate over the rules of documentary filmmaking. Nanook of the North featured real Inuit in real (well, mostly real) locations but Flaherty’s directorial “influence” drastically distorted the reality of Inuit life in order foster more dramatic elements all for the sake of the story.
But, Paper Heart is certainly no Nanook of the North. However, Paper Heart does lead me to reminisce about Jim McBride’s 1967 mockumentary David Holzman’s Diary (referenced quite cleverly in Roman Coppola’s CQ). Sure, Paper Heart is not nearly as pretentious as David Holzman’s Diary, but both films take full advantage of the mockumentary format by utilizing an authentic cast and natural storyline. Paper Heart and David Holzman’s Diary actually seem as though they could be real, whereas most other mockumentaries (for example: Borat) spend all of their time mocking the documentary tradition and therefore do not seem real at all.
In summary, Paper Heart is a work of fiction in the brilliant disguise of a documentary.