Aug 28 2009

Paper Heart: Benn’s Rebuttal

You may remember James’ Early Bird review of Paper Heart, and if you didn’t go ahead and read it at your leisure.  Or just trust that he generally liked it even if he wasn’t passionate about it.  Well since then, Benn has managed to catch the film and has a few opinions of his own.  In fact he felt strongly enough about it to write an entire review as a rebuttal to James’ thoughts.  So, because we always want to give you a well rounded opinion at Two Film Geeks, please enjoy Benn’s review of Paper Heart.

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

Benn’s review follows after the jump.

Post-modern, semi-fictional documentary Paper Heart asks several questions about the nature of love and receives a number of interesting and honest answers through the films film’s interviewees.  If this sounds interesting to you, you would be right, except that the film’s star and writer is Charlyne Yi, the epitome of awkward humor.

Paper Heart is, in a sense, two movies in one.  The first is a cross-country documentary about the nature of love in the perspectives of several very different kinds of people, from bikers to a divorcee to two married divorce lawyers.  This film proves to be interesting and insightful, since love in and of itself is a difficult thing to aptly describe.  Everyone has their own definition of what love is due to their own individual experiences, so to hear several people from different backgrounds and walks of life give multiple ideas of what love is gives us a very broad, yet complete picture of what love is.

Unfortunately, there is a second film within Paper Heart, and it all revolves around Charlyne Yi.  People have described Yi as being cute, quirky and awkward, and though the latter attribute applies, I disagree with the sentiment.  I find her to be obnoxious, and as for her own personal quest for discovering what love is: its nothing more than fishing for sympathy and pity.  The film opens with Yi holding a microphone on the Las Vegas strip, asking people if they believe in love.  Naturally, nearly everyone rushes past her, to which there are several shots of her frowning and alone in the crowd, as if to suggest the whole world is against her.  When the few people who stop to answer her question ask for her opinion, she briefly responds that she doesn’t believe in love.  Obviously, this comes up throughout all the interviews, and naturally, everyone questions and pities Yi, who just sits there grinning nervously at her subject’s concern for her.  It’s pathetic, it’s insincere, and it’s counter-productive to what the documentary is about.  We want to hear about what people think about true love, not that Yi refuses to believe in it and comforts herself in other people’s sympathies.

To her credit, Yi does carry herself well with her subjects, and her line of questions concerning love, which is usually a private and uncomfortable topic for some to discuss well, so she must have been doing something right.  Unfortunately, her demeanor and presence doesn’t match those of the interviewees, and I’m not referring to the varying age differences.  Granted, there is something endearing about her innocent, simple presence, but her lack of any kind of emotional depth sometimes becomes apparent during the interviews, and you find yourself wishing someone else would take over the conversation.  Not to mention that, since the topic of her own resistance to love becomes part of the conversation, the interview turns into a pity party.  Oddly enough, the place Yi appears to be the most comfortable is on a playground, where she asks children how they would define love.  At first Yi’s childish sensibilities seem to mix well to those half her own age (at least half) until the kids ask her of her own opinions on her own subject, and Yi verbally trips and mumbles her away around the question.  More troubling than this display of conviction is the audience’s realization that the children prove to be better, more open minded interviewers when a few of them posses more poise that the twenty-three year star.

Naturally, this second film also concerns a budding relationship between Yi and fellow quirky, awkward humor staple Michael Cera.  Cera finds Yi interesting and mysterious, while I find her childish, but hey, I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Anyway, the camera crew follows Yi and Cera around since the documentary’s director (Jake Johnson, whose natural, down to earth personality is a breath of fresh air) finds their relationship very relevant to the film.  He would be right, since a developing relationship between a young man and the girl who doesn’t believe in love would be an interesting and telling element concerning the documentary’s question.  Unfortunately, Cera and Yi have no chemistry to speak of.  Cera, who actually conveys a bit more confidence than his typical roles, and Yi mostly just walk around holding hands and engage in uninteresting, forced conversations.  There is a scene when the two walk around a grocery store in search for something to eat, and eventually leave empty handed.  You would think that this scene would be filled with some kind of witty banter revolving around any kind of subject matter.  This does not happen.

Part of the pull of this film came from the apparent rumors of Cera and Yi’s real off-screen relationship and subsequent breakup just before the film was released.  After performing a break up song on the Tonight Show, Yi has publicly denied that she and Cera were dating, cracking jokes about how she’s old enough to be his babysitter (she is no where close, physically or emotionally, old enough.  I assure you).  At first, I simply took this as Yi’s way of handling the breakup; someone that painfully awkward would prefer to deny an adult relationship rather than accept and own up to.  However, after watching the contrived debacle that was the couple’s supposedly fictional relationship, I’d rather listen to nails on a chalkboard while watching paint dry.  At least something would be happening.

I would be doing this article an injustice if I did not mention the film’s principle song, “Smells Like Christmas”.  In the middle of the film, Yi writes and records this song on her computer for Cera, because she likens her affection toward him for the joyful sensation of Christmas.  If this sounds corny to you, you really have no idea until you’ve heard Yi’s clumsy technique and off-key vocals.  It’s mind numbing, and it was like watching a car accident; I wanted to leave, but I was too morbidly fascinated by the idea that this sounded good to someone to leave.  Some may really like this song, as these kinds of off-key, badly produced songs appear in other self-proclaimed witty, “indie” films such as this (see the Juno soundtrack.  It’s Moldy Peaches and Kimya Dawson aplenty).

Like Juno, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist and the upcoming Michael Cera vehicle Youth in Revolt, Paper Heart is another one of these indie-hipster films that pride themselves on being unnaturally quirky, awkward and against the grain for the sake of being so.  Yi and Cera are hoodie-clad, acoustic guitar “playing”, wounded souls just trying to get along in a big, scary world, and so proud of that fact that they decided to make a film about it.  If you’re wondering why I’ve gotten so far away from the intended subject matter of the film, it’s because I wondered the same thing about Paper Heart itself.  It’s a shame, because the questions, answers and overall messages about love and relationships are profound, and one could learn a lot from the interviewees themselves.  Unfortunately, the film prefers to be passively self-indulgent in it’s own awkwardness and its own purposeful resistance to any kind of convention, solely because its so conventional.

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