‘Paper Heart’: Charm card played too strong

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, August 6, 2009 9:26pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

“Paper Heart” is a weird hybrid of many things: documentary and pseudo-documentary, indie and anti-indie, romantic comedy with a heroine who doesn’t believe in love.

I wish I could say this made the movie interesting in some recommendable way. But it plays like a cheerful, well-intended mess.

The cheerful part radiates from the film’s writer-producer-star Charlyne Yi, a diminutive stand-up comic with a rubbery face and an aggressively frumpy fashion sense. Playing herself in the movie, Yi undertakes an investigation into the nature of “love” in America, since she’s not buying it.

So the movie has a few obviously unscripted (and mostly really charming) encounters between Yi and various passersby. These folks are disarmed by Yi’s goofy reactions and self-deprecating style.

Then she encounters the actor Michael Cera (the diffident scene-stealer recently seen in “Year One” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”), who expresses interest in her. They begin to date, and since this is happening while Charlyne is supposedly making a documentary about love, well, she’s obligated to get all this on video.

“Paper Heart” is directed by Nicholas Jasenovec. The director working with Yi on the “documentary” in the movie is also named Nicholas Jasenovec, but is played by an actor named Jake M. Johnson.

That gives you a hint of the self-conscious games being played in this movie, which extend to the fact (I guess it’s a fact) that Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera were a real-life couple.

By the time we hear Charlyne’s “Juno”-esque love songs and see scenes played out with paper dolls, I think I’d lost patience with this movie. There’s a fine line between charming and precious, and “Paper Heart” crosses it.

Cameos by friends of Charlyne (including her “Knocked Up” co-star Seth Rogen) flitter past, but mostly this is a two-hander. Both Yi and Cera are funny people, shambling around as though embarrassed by the fact that a camera is watching them, even though they’re in the business of being watched.

It’s hard to dislike this movie, especially given the ingratiating personalities on display. But the shrugging casualness of it all made me wish somebody would put more hustle into the whole thing.

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