Film Review: Paper Heart

Twee mockumentary bestills love-seeking hipster hearts.

Young audiences impatient with the kind of love that’s sealed by a camera rotating 360 degrees around its embracing couple will find respite in Paper Heart. Part documentary, part scripted mockumentary, the film follows Charlyne Yi (playing a version of herself) around the country in her quest to understand love. She doesn’t think she is capable of love—and interviews some scientists to find out if she is right—having learned about it only from “fairy tales and movies.”

The earnest tone of the film emanates entirely from Yi. She’s camera-shy, and speaks with a hesitant, checked curiosity. She’s less self-aware than the subjects she interviews, and they eagerly jump into the space she provides, speaking assuredly about their experiences in matters of love. Conducted in biker bars, wood-paneled rec rooms, and knickknack-filled suburban homes, the interviews’ countrified settings have that same vein of irony that made trucker hats popular headwear for teens a few years ago. Yi herself doesn’t mock her subjects, but recreates their stories using handmade puppets, giving us a childlike interpretation of the throes of love.

As Yi interviews partygoers, she meets Juno star Michael Cera, and later they “hang out.” Her director, Nick Jasenovec (played by Jake Johnson), suspects she may be falling in love, and decides the film must incorporate their courtship into the story. Yi still conducts her wide-eyed interviews, but her questions seem to be cautious attempts to ask for relationship advice, and find out if what she’s feeling is love.

Punctuated by long silences and off-camera moments, Yi and Cera capture the tentativeness of their coupling. The presence of the camera adds an extra beat to the awkwardness of their relationship, and is used to great effect. Unlike reality-television couples, who carry on without mention of a camera crew, Cera and Yi allude to the difficulties of putting a camera in front of something so young and fragile. During the nervous moments of their first kiss, there’s a reveal that shows the crew circled around the couple. The perfectly timed moment lets us know the other reason why the duo was so hesitant, and receives the biggest laugh of the film.

Paper Heart excels in its defiance of romantic-comedy conventions, putting it in the company of another indie festival favorite, (500) Days of Summer. Instead of showing us the couple’s most romantic moments, they ask the camera to stay at the door. Relationship-changing actions are explained on-camera after they happen off-camera, and Cera and Yi even lie to the viewer. The couple refuses to let their relationship become a stereotype: When the director wants the duo to go to Paris to give a romantic, sealed-with-a-kiss ending to the film, instead we’re given a scene of Yi moping after a break-up.

While teens may like a baroque, fated, over-the-top vampire romance à la Twilight, they’re also looking for something more real, something that will unseat love from its fantastical representations. Paper Heart, with its wispy sincerity, shows us love but also hides it from us. In its refusal to indulge in clichéd romantic moments and a happily-ever-after, it reveals an attainable love, one that can be experienced without comparison to moony-eyed movie couples.