If documentaries necessarily involve a potential for abuse, simply because the perceived reality of film is so open to manipulation through editing and other tricks of the movie trade, documentary/fiction hybrids offer the opportunity for extreme confusion and manipulation. And, boy, is that the case here.
While the actual write-ups for “Paper Heart” were vague about the premise, a fellow LAFF-goer casually told me that it involved some kind of recreation of the romance between comedian/performance artist Charlyne Yi (“Knocked Up“) and the future of comic understatement, Michael Cera. Thus, watching the film, I became convinced I was seeing some kind of fictionalized retelling of a real-life romance. I am informed, however, in David Poland’s interview and from the post film Q&A that the relationship in the film is utterly and entirely fictional, so I assumed I was wrong again and the pair don’t date and never have. But after a bit more research I have information that indicates that Yi and Cera do have a relationship, just not in the one the movie. Except that the movie deals with what are Yi’s supposedly real feelings about love and how could that not affect her real or imagined romance with Cera? Of course, that’s none of my business and that’s probably a big part of the point.
The whole layers of fiction and reality thing got even more complicated when, at the post-screening Q&A, cowriter-director Nicholas Jasenovec stated categorically that story portions of the film were fictional while the documentary portions were not. Fine, but then a pre-teen boy who appears in the film opining on romance joins the discussion and, asked about he was found for “Paper Heart,” he and Jasenovic state that he was found through a casting process to join what appears to be a conversation with more or less random school children, and he is an actor.
When Jean Luc Godard uttered his most quoted line, that cinema was truth, 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie, I think this is kind of what he was talking about. But, so what?
The actual movie “Paper Heart” is, I should add, a fairly entertaining and at times affecting work that will no doubt make a popular date movie for young indie film fans. Those with high sensitivities to cuteness and niceness may, however, find themselves in danger of sugar shock; the word “twee” may be uttered by less kind viewers. And that’s interesting, considering the premise of the film — and this part we’re told was entirely true while the film was being made, if not now — is that Yi does not believe in love, by which I guess she means strictly romantic love of the rapturous sort celebrated in 95% of pop songs. Still, it maybe goes deeper than the idea that we tend to over-rhapsodize about sexual love, or maybe it doesn’t.
Approximately fifty percent of the film is Yi asking various friends (including famous ones like Seth Rogen and Demetri Martin), family members (presumably not hired actors), and various experts and seemingly random strangers about the nature of love. The other half, which is blended fairly seamlessly with the documentary portions, is the non-Yi’s budding relationship with the non-Cera, whom she meets through non-director Jasenovich (played kind of brilliantly by Jasenovich’s real life actor brother, Jake M. Johnson, who had me convinced that he was, in fact, the actual director of the film). The inevitable romantic complication is that like the real Yi (at least at the time) the fictional Yi doesn’t believe in love, which is likely to sit poorly with an ardent boyfriend, fictional or real.
Do you have a headache yet? Well, I’m sleep deprived, and so I definitely have one. I will add that Yi’s wondrous paper-puppet recreations of the stories told by the documentary subjects (and later one she tells about herself) are easily the most honest thing in the film. Sometimes, maybe it’s better just to be overtly fake.