Wednesday, November 18
Today I received Paper Heart
in the mail from DVD Talk. I'm looking forward to this one.
I don't know anything about star and co-writer Charlyne Yi, but her
co-star is Michael Cera, who I like, and the movie seems to have been
well-reviewed. The DVD package announces that Paper Heart
won the screenwriting award at Sundance this year, which is pretty amazing,
especially when you consider that Yi was 23 when she won it. Plus
on top of all that, the film's premise is intriguing. There's
a documentary aspect to it in which Yi and her crew interrogate strangers
about their ideas and experiences with love; and there's a fictional
aspect to the movie, too, that revolves around a staged romance between
Yi and Cera. This should be, at the very least, different.
Later on Wednesday, November
I just shut off Paper Heart
after 25 of its 88 minutes. I was having a violently negative
reaction - it was like my body was rejecting a bad donor organ.
Yi's suffocating self-conscious cuteness was overwhelming my capacity
to process the film's content. It's basically a bunch of wanna-be
hipsters (a redundant concept?) in hoodies - with the hoods up -
running around pretending to make a movie. It's self-indulgent
LA nonsense at its absolute worst. You've got Yi smiling her
dimpled grin hoping that it gets her through the movie -
all while pretending to care about what "love" means. The
questions about love - which are fueled by Yi's doubt that she'll
ever find love herself - are totally disingenuous. There is
no real substantive discussion of the topic by Yi or by the filmmakers,
even though there are a few interesting thoughts expressed by some of
the interviewees. But the film is more interested in Yi, her guitar-playing
friends, and their affected hoodie-clad "down-to-earthness."
Actually, they are just a bunch of empty-headed dorks.
I had such a bad reaction to
the first 25 minutes that I had to shut it off. I didn't want
to get so wrapped up in hate that I wouldn't be able to articulate
my reasons for it. The contrived Juno-like phoniness of
this movie is made more unpalatable by its "documentary" form -
i.e., these people, supposedly, actually behave this way - and knowing
that makes watching them a far more demoralizing experience than watching
Ellen Page pretend to be precocious. Anyway, I shut it
off. I shut it off and will think about what the fuck is happening
here. I don't know if I'm alone among critics in hating this
movie - I mean, the Sundance people gave it a prize, and they're
not just a bunch of studio shills. Are they?!
Saturday, November 21
Okay, it's over now.
The movie's artificiality is overwhelming, and ultimately this is
what I can't bear. You've got Yi pretending to make a documentary
- and I do mean pretending, because even the "real" scenes have
the film's real director (Nicholas Jasenovec) portrayed fictively
by an actor (Jake Johnson). So even the scenes that are ostensibly
"non-fiction" are fictionalized. The vox populi interviews
are probably genuine - and are the most interesting and moving sequences
in the whole movie. However, even those are marred by grotesquely
childish puppet shows that re-enact the stories told by the interviewees,
who are heard in voice-over as low-rent Gondry-esque cardboard cutouts
and cotton batting are manipulated cheesily to affect a cloying homemade
cuteness that really just plain stinks.
Even less convincing is the
purported romance between Yi and Cera. These two have zero chemistry
- not even the awkward chemistry of young people. Cera's discomfort
with the cameras - a sticking point in the development of the fictional
relationship with Yi - really just seems like a manifestation of his
discomfort with the whole ill-defined project. There is absolutely
no reason to believe that the two are even vaguely connected, making
the experimental nature of this film an utter failure.
Although Yi begins with honest
questions about love, Paper Heart quickly becomes more about
making a cute film for friends and contemporaries who ache for the charms
of contrivance and quirkery for the sake of it. I suspect that
Yi may have "learned something" - if that was her real intent
- from the interviews she conducted, which carry the weight of frankness,
and at times, insight. But Paper Heart's key interest
is in its own mannered, self-reflexive approach than it is about the
ideas it half-heartedly investigates.
The picture is presented in an enhanced 1.78:1 transfer, and looks
very good. The brand-new source material is reproduced here with
good fidelity, and even though blacks are a tiny bit dodgy at times
(an apparently unavoidable outcome when using DV in certain lighting
conditions), the image is basically solid, with naturalistic lighting
coming across especially well in the daytime scenes.
The 5.1 surround track is pleasing and balanced, but not very active.
There are a few surround effects used during the puppet-show recreations
of lovers' tales, but even those are sparse. Nevertheless, the
track is well-mixed and the dialogue has been recorded crisply.
A handful of extras have been included which will no doubt be of
interest to those who enjoy the film. First, under the heading
Featurettes, we have Paper Heart Uncut (7:28) and The
Making of Paper Heart (10:46). The first is a mildly amusing
outtakes reel and the second is a behind-the-scenes piece.
Live Musical Performances by Charlyne Yi (6:31) contains excerpts
from Yi's nightclub act, in which she displays interesting comedic
talent that is absent from the feature. "Heaven" Music
Video (1:43) features Michael Cera and Yi performing a mind-explodingly
dippy twee song they co-wrote for the film. Love Interviews
With the Comedians (26:09) is a collection of mostly-unused interview
footage with comedians/friends of Yi and Jasenovec; these include Bill
Hader, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Demetri Martin. There is some good
stuff here. A group of Deleted Scenes
(31:23) deliver a few interesting moments that perhaps should have been
included in the final cut. A Theatrical Trailer (2:31)
wraps things up.
Paper Heart is 88 minutes
of Charlyne Yi's droning voice expressing disingenuous cluelessness
about an important, universal topic. Add Michael Cera - who
often looks like he's doing his best to swallow his confusion over
the proceedings - and you've got an indulgent, unconvincing "hybrid
documentary" just right for the same shoe-gazing, indie rock post-hipster brats who made it. In proportion to the relative acclaim that it received, Paper Heart is the most annoying movie I've seen in awhile. Skip it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.