Precious, fey, twee -- these are all adjectives I rarely get a chance to use, let alone in a single sentence -- but all came to mind while watching Paper Heart.
Paper Heart actually feels like two movies. One is a flimsy documentary in which comedian Charlyne Yi travels the country, interviewing people about love and how to know it when you find it. The other is a mockumentary in which Yi talks about her own unwillingness to believe in love -- until she connects with actor Michael Cera. You know it's a mockumentary because, as the credits roll, it's revealed that the guy who appears in the film as its director is actually an actor pretending to be the director.
Yi is like an art nerd with a sense of humor, one who lives in her own little universe and craves no one's approval. Sure, she's happy to welcome new inhabitants and playmates to Yi-World - otherwise, she wouldn't be a performer or, in this case, a filmmaker.
But you're either on her wavelength or you're not. She's not one to meet you halfway.
She actually has a mildly mainstream idea working with the documentary part of the movie. She and her camera crew travel the country, talking to individuals and couples about what love means: how they recognized it when it happened to them, what it feels like, how it changed their lives and so on.
She illustrates these sequences with little paper-puppet shows, figures rendered with a childlike innocence (or perhaps faux innocence). Sometimes these are clever, sometimes they're just aggressively cute.
But Yi tries to take it all to a meta level by filming her own half-hearted pursuit of love (or, rather, her attempts to debunk love until she feels unexpected stirrings). The camera follows her in her off-hours as she attends a party with friends like Seth Rogen, who talk for her documentary. Then she meets Cera, who casually begins to pursue her.
Before long, they're dating, with the camera crew capturing the courtship. Then they're trying to ditch the camera crew. Then they break up -- and then she seeks him out at his parents' house in Toronto.
It's all underscored by one of those wan, childishly tinkly scores that Juno made so popular. All of which begins to grate because Yi and Cera's screen presence are the acting equivalent of that boneless music.
Cera practices a kind of comedic ju-jitsu, using the energy of others to his own advantage. He's a passive presence who needs to be acted against, in order to provide his mild brand of comic resistance.
But Yi has exactly the same kind of energy. Chinless and begoggled, the only thing she has going for her are her tiny squeaks of protest and disagreement. But that's Cera's affect as well; as a result, in this comic tug of war, they're both pulling in the same direction -- and barely pulling, at that.
No friction or resistance = no laughs.
Which means Paper Heart crumples like soggy tissue.
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