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Paper Heart

Starz / Anchor Bay // PG-13 // December 1, 2009
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Casey Burchby | posted November 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author

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 18

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 Video
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 Sound
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.

The Extras
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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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