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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Paper Heart (Blu-ray)
Paper Heart (Blu-ray)
Starz / Anchor Bay // PG-13 // December 1, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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This isn't a love story. This is a story about love.

Oh! Wait. Someone already nicked that tagline. Well, Paper Heart is about pint-sized alt-comedy dynamo Charlyne Yi wondering if love really does exist, and in this kinda-sorta-documentary of hers, she trots from one end of the country to the other interviewing folks about it. Yi pals around with some of her comedian buddies asking about it, like Martin Starr, Seth Rogen, and Demetri Martin. Paper Heart aims its cameras at random people strolling through the streets of Sin City, with the awkwardly bubbly Yi hitting up passersby for their thoughts about love 'n romance. She interviews biology and chemistry professors, a judge and a divorce attorney, a romance novelist, wide-eyed kids on a playground, a gaggle of bikers, and...hey! even a couple of country musicians 'cause who'd know more about heartache and jilted romance than them? Hey, Yi even gets a Tarot card reading and spies on mating zoo animals to nudge her in the right direction. How much does Yi wind up learning about love while shooting her documentary? Well, kind of a lot, I guess, since along the way, she and Michael Cera fall head over heels for each other. 'Course, with Yi coincidentally heading up a doc about and all, the cameras are always aimed their way, and that quickly starts to grate on Cera... Like David HasselhoffThe Bard asked, will only time tell if their love will stand the test of time?

So, how hyperaggressively twee is Paper Heart? Think a cartoon bluebird flying around with some lacy ribbon in its beak, tying it around a Yorkshire Terrier named Effie to keep his hair out of his eyes, and then they both dance along to every Go Sailor and Mates of State 7" ever. I'm not anti-twee -- seriously, if you ever run into me, I can quote every single lyric to Tuscadero's "Nancy Drew" on command -- but Paper Heart heaps on too much of it, and it all starts to feel forced and artificial before long. Yi's quirky charm can be kind of adorable in short spurts, but for an entire movie...? It's kind of like eating frosting straight out of the jar. Y'know, sugary-sweet at first but
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a little goes a long way.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 40% of Paper Heart really is a documentary -- Yi traveling around and chatting people up about love, romance, heartbreak...that sorta thing. A few of these bits feel kind of stilted, like Yi trying on a wedding dress, but quite a bit of it's genuinely charming. To toss in a little visual flair, each of the stories that Yi's subjects spout off are accompanied by homebrew puppetry: cardboard and cloth cutouts against chintzy yet surprisingly elaborate backdrops. G.I. marionettes, a cardboard Jeep lunging up the stairs of a Texas courthouse, paper cutouts tearing through snowy mountains...yeah, yeah, some people may see that and groan about it being too precious, but I'm a cheap date, and I liked it.

The downside is...well, pretty much everything else the movie dishes out. Paper Heart's mission statement is to mix an actual documentary with pre-fab/improvised segments, which is kinda clever but just seems to get in the way more than anything else. A lot of it's bogged down by an overly meta "hey, we're making a documentary!" subplot, and the low-octane drama swirling around that angle just seems too overly manufactured. It's kinda fun when Yi and director Nicholas Jasenovec (who's, um, played in the movie by actor Jake M. Johnson) are just goofing around, but Paper Heart kinda drags when it shifts gears into the oh-no-what-are-we-gonna-do-with-our-movie-next conflicts.

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for Yi's on-screen romance with Michael Cera. Some of his quips seem like they're halfway-written in advance, such as a compliment about a coat that turns into a Burlington Coat Factory conversation. It's like one of those spork jokes that were making the rounds back in the '80s. There's no real punchline or anything...you're just supposed to laugh 'cause someone said "Burlington Coat Factory". Yi is upfront in the extras about what's spoofed and what's not, but...it's not that tough to figure out. A lot of the stuff between Yi and Cera never really comes across as genuine, and besides, they pretend a Totino's Party Pizza takes a half-hour to bake while skulking around a grocery store; if there's any kind of lie I can see straight through, it's frozen pizza cooking times. Admittedly, some of these scenes do feel more relaxed as Paper Heart breezes along, but the early ones in particular are pretty clumsily staged, and there's never really any convincing chemistry between 'em. On the other hand, stuff like a BLT minus the B plus PC made me laugh, and Yi writes a pretty damn great song for Cera at one point that comes complete with a Breeders-y vocal melody.

So...yeah. Paper Heart. I'm kinda mixed, really. There's not enough to gnaw on here to make for much of a feature-length documentary, and although I do like the concept of mixing fact and fiction like this, the end result is pretty clunky. Paper Heart just feels like it's trying too hard, and I can't really get lost in a movie that's grabbing me by the shoulders, shaking me violently, and screaming "isn't this adorable?!?!?!" until blood starts trickling out of my ears. Worth a rental...? Sure. Wouldn't recommend it as a purchase sight-unseen, tho'. Rent It.

Shot...well, mostly on HD video, Paper Heart looks pretty terrific on Blu-ray. The image is generally sharp, detailed, and colorful, especially whenever the camera closes in tight. The texture and clarity in Yi's homebrew paper cutout re-enactments in particular look incredible, with all that additional resolution amping up their chintzy charm. The high-def cameras that the crew is lugging around don't seem to hold up that well under low-light, though, and darker segments are frequently swarming with video noise. Also, some shots are unusually soft, sometimes to the point of almost seeming out of focus, like when they're all palling around in the zoo. It can really vary from one shot to the next, and I'm sure all that dates back to the original photography and shouldn't be chalked up as a hiccup with this Blu-ray disc. The texture for the most part is really smooth and clean, and black levels are pretty meaty too. Paper Heart isn't polished to some sort of gleaming, glossy sheen, no, but it does look pretty great in high-def.

Paper Heart opens up the mattes a bit to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and the AVC encode and all of its extras are given plenty of room to stretch around on this BD-50 disc.

Paper Heart's 24-bit, six-channel Dolby TrueHD audio sounds quite a bit better than I expected. A lot of that's owed to the indie-pop scattered around the soundtrack, and the music not only sounds nice and warm but is reinforced by a tight, punchy low-end. The conversations (well, and the mostly unscripted dialogue) come through really well too. Bass response can be hefty when the doc calls for it, particularly the throaty growl of a motorcycle engine. The atmospheric surrounds are kept chattering pretty constantly too, from bowling balls being slung down the lanes to lapping waves on the beach at sunset. It's in the cardboard-'n-cloth re-enactments that the mix can get really aggressive, especially with a spastic ending that's...definitely not what you'd waltz in expecting out of a faux-documentary about love.

There aren't any dubs or downmixes this time around, but Paper Heart does sport subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • The Making of Paper Heart (11 min.; HD):
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    This featurette shies away from the standard issue behind-the-scenes formula, instead anchoring itself around a chat with Charlyne Yi. She gabs about crafting the fabricated B-story with Michael Cera, how tough it is to slog it out as a documentarian, and how Paper Heart required her to learn how to...y'know, talk and act.

  • Paper Heart Uncut (7 min.; HD): "I suck at talking." About half of this outtakes reel is Yi fumbling with the whole documentary thing, complete with montages of "uh, um"-ing and maniacal cackling. Following that is a bunch of candid goofing around. It runs a few minutes longer than it probably should have, yeah, but it's pretty fun anyway.

  • Deleted Scenes (31 min.; HD): Paper Heart serves up a double helping of extra scenes, including Martin Starr and his too-cute girlfriend talking about how they fell in love, a stop-motion paper heart sequence, and a conversation with a widow in Little Rock who was married for 65 years. There's a lot more with Nick and Chuck palling around, including a round of tag, more chatter with the kids on the playground, painting a T-shirt, goofing around with fireworks, and...oops!...exhausting the one "fuck" they're allowed in a PG-13 flick. Yi also spends a good bit more time with Michael Cera, most memorably a jam session in a music store with an autoharp and a toy piano. That makes me happy, so yay.

  • Love Interviews with the Comedians (26 min.; SD): I guess to get some viral marketing or something out there, Yi chats up a few of her pals about love: Paul Rust, Jason Ritter, Bill Hader, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Krumholtz, Demetri Martin, Paul Scheer, and Rob Huebel. The chatter with Bobcat actually seems really sincere, but the rest grab one joke a pop and roll with it...Rust's awkward flirting (...and if you thought I Love You, Beth Cooper was bad...), pestering Krumholtz about The Santa Clause, Scheer pretending to be a loud-mouthed hack comic... Gets old kinda quickly.

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    This footage is encoded at 1080i, but the lack of detail and kinda nightmarish aliasing point in a completely different direction. Also, even though there is a 'play all' feature, all but one of 'em opens with the exact same introduction, and that gets annoying really quickly.

  • Live Musical Performances by Charlyne Yi (6 min.; HD): Yi's set starts off with infectiously poppy solo electric songs -- she even yips like a coyote in the first of 'em -- and she eventually brings in harp, violin, and a singing saw (!).

  • Music Video (2 min.; HD): It's more of a deleted scene than a music video, yeah, but sitting around in a bedroom with an electric guitar and a yardsale Yamaha keyboard, Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi breeze through "Heaven".

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up is a high-def trailer for Paper Heart. Other HD trailers are scattered around elsewhere on this disc too.

The second disc in the set serves up a digital copy of the movie. I didn't fiddle around with it, but the screened art says it's for Windows PCs only.

The Final Word
Paper Heart sets out to be as adorable as a labradoodle with two scoops of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and sprinkles of fairy dust heaped on top. I mean, I'm all for twee, but the whole thing comes across as too cloying and manufacturedly precious. This kinda-sorta-pseudo-semi-documentary is kinda breezy and fun when it doesn't seem like it's trying so hard, but the other half/two-thirds/whatever...? Kind of an indifferent shrug. Rent It.

Yet Again, I Snapped Too Many Screengrabs
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