Aug 5 2009

Paper Heart

In a Lock, Stock, and Two Film Geeks first, we present to you a review of a film that has not been released yet.  James was lucky enough to catch the film in a screening, so here is a review, sans Ben’s analysis of Paper Heart, due in theaters August 14th.

Since this obviously doesn’t qualify as a Film Duel, let’s call this an “Early Bird Review”

Paper Heart
Year: 2009
Dir.: Nicholas Jasenovec
Written by: Nicholas Jasenovec and Charleyne Yi
Starring: Charleyne Yi and Michael Cera
Genre: Comedy

James’ review follows after the jump.

Paper Heart is a difficult movie to categorize. There’s documentary aspects, but there’s also a narrative through that is completely and utterly manufactured. As a whole it’s very comedic, but it also has some very dramatic and introspective analysis of love. Through all this, the film manages a surprising level of cohesion, never comes off the rails, and manages to complete its theme at the end in quite a comprehensive way.

The film presents itself as a documentary about a girl, Charleyne Yi (co-writer of the film, and playing a character of the same name), who doesn’t believe in love interviewing people about love. We’re treated to her awkwardly interacting with these people throughout, and at certain points the film stops entirely to present these real people’s love stories through their own narration companioned with a visual of cardboard dolls reenacting the tale. In addition to all this, Charleyne meets Michael Cera (the actor, also playing a character of his own name) and begins a relationship with him after being pushed into it by the documentary’s director Nick (a character named for the real co-writer and director Nicholas Jasenovec, but played by an actor named Jake Johnson). Confused yet? The trick is to try and forget the what’s real and what isn’t and just go with the flow, but most audiences will probably be distracted by the constant interweaving of reality with fiction.

Some of the best moments of the film are really propelled by the people being interviewed. But of course their stories are brought out wonderfully by the interactions and reactions of Yi, who is charmingly awkward. The narrative aspect doesn’t work quite as well. It often seems forced and is essentially a very simple courtship story. There are a few brilliant scenes, like one in a restaurant where Michael Cera leaves and returns, but these are far and in between. The acting in these points can be surprisingly good, but a lot of this is due to the fact that the actors are either playing themselves or a character they’ve done numerous times. Michael Cera is doing a character he’s done for years, and he does it so well that you can’t help enjoy it anyway. The actor playing Nick is a bit hammy but he’s likable and has a great rapport with Charleyne.

The love stories, while sweet and educational, probably slow down the film the most. But you can’t help but smile during them. It’s just that they function better as separate entities, and whether you look at the narrative aspect of the film or the documentary aspect, they still bring the piece to a grinding hault. Seeing Charleyne just generally discuss her feelings with Nick also feels a bit too expositional. She says what she feels instead of letting us see what she feels. There are some great editing transitions in specific points, but in the broader sense it can be a bit jarring the way the narrative and doc segments are treated in such large chunks. It would’ve been nicer if we could’ve seen a more seamless integration. That said, the movie never really feels like you’re watching two divergent films and manages to keep a unified style across the board.

Finally, the soundtrack, by Michael Cera and Charleyne Yi is both clumsy and adorable. It fits perfectly with Yi’s personality and compliments the film really nicely. The song which is the centerpiece of their romance and the credits is silly and yet beautifully heartfelt. It’s a great love song for the Juno generation, if not a technically well written song in the musical sense. That’s too bad, I almost made it through the review without a reference to Juno.

Overall the film is very cute, funny, and entertaining, but unlike many other quirky comedies of its ilk and from similar groups of people, it doesn’t rise to the level of greatness.  The narrative is too jerky and it doesn’t come together in a way that really speaks all that universally.   It’s worth seeing at some point, but if you miss it in theaters you’ll find it just as satisfactory on DVD.

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