How do you define love? Is it something that's short lived and passionate, or a long drawn commitment? Is it that fleeting and can disappear on a whim, or something that you know for sure is permanent, consistent and wouldn't change? For those who have been through a phase of having loved and being loved before, you're likely to have developed your own philosophy - cynical, sentimental or pragmatic. For someone like Charlyne Yi who has never been in a romantic relationship before, the subject of love, and the dramatized account of her budding romance with Michael Cera, become the parallel stories in Paper Heart.
For director Nick Jasenovec (who appears in front of the camera played by actor Jake M. Johnson), meshing the two threads together in a seamless fashion blurred the line between fantasy and reality. At times the documentary segments crosses over to the dramatized narrative, that it becomes hard to tell whether Charlyne, as the explorer of the theme, is genuinely being herself, or just putting on a facade to be in character. The same goes for Michael Cera, who is aware of the camera constantly poking its nose into him and his relationship with Charlyne, whether he's hamming it up for the camera, or being really perturbed by the invasion of privacy.
But it is precisely the down-to-earth demeanours of both personalities, that make this film shine as we gleefully become voyeurs shadowing their every move, no thanks to the clause of having the film crew do just that, in case of missing out on any perfect moment suitable for the documentary. Those familiar with Michael Cera and the stereotyped characters he plays, will find the same kind of appeal in Charlyne, the musician-comedian being almost a female equivalent of Cera, and the pair share some great chemistry together in their young, inexperienced courtship. Who cares if they're faking it, as they do look adorable together, with their insecurities, hesitations and all!
Then there are the flat-out documentary segments, which in truth was to me as entertaining as they were enlightening, exploring the theme of love in as wide a spectrum as possible, gunning for interviews all around America from children and their innocent perspectives, to full-blown theories from various scientific fields. It's Love 101 for Dummies succinctly summarized in a film, where you'll begin to realize that it's pretty much all-encompassing, with personal interpretations from talking heads sharing their most memorable accounts in anecdotal terms. You'll find yourself adoring the puppets and landscapes (complete with moving parts, mind you!) crafted to reenact these moments, that they'll surely bring about a chuckle or two in the childish, kitschy style presented.
Don't head out the door just yet when the end credits start rolling, especially if you're a fan of that insanely touching yet comedic love song performed by Charlyne Yi, and for that little stinger at the end. It's an ambitious documentary of sorts for taking on a subject as vast as “Love”, and personally I thought there's a subtle lesson learnt here from all the couples who have made it through their decades-long marriage anniversaries, and that is being a guy, it's as one of the interviewees mentioned, just say I do and subsequently, forever, just Yes Dear. Looking at the way the film got constructed, it's also important to keep the mouth shut, and agree with everything the lady says. Just watch the film, and see if you agree with me on this one!
Paper Heart opens in cinemas 1 Oct 2009.