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Saturday, November 21, 2009

PAPER HEART -- DVD review by porfle

There are documentaries--films which record actual events as they happen--and mockumentaries like THIS IS SPINAL TAP, which spoof them. And then there's PAPER HEART (2009), which only partially succeeds at being both.

Comedienne and musician Charlyne Yi (CLOVERFIELD, KNOCKED UP), who executive-produced and co-wrote the film, stars as herself. The idea is that Charlyne not only doesn't know what love is, but she doesn't really believe in true love at all. So she takes off on a cross-country odyssey with director Nicholas Jasenovec (portrayed in the movie by actor Jake Johnson) and a film crew to ask really-real-life couples to talk about their love experiences.

During this time, Charlyne meets Michael Cera (played by Michael Cera, Yi's actual boyfriend at the time) and they start to fall for each other. Eventually Charlyne and Michael chafe under the constant scrutiny of the film crew and want to pursue their burgeoning courtship in private, to the chagrin of director Nick. Will Charlyne find the meaning of true love with a camera crew following her every move?

PAPER HEART has little trouble convincing us it's a real documentary early on, as Charlyne and Nick hatch the idea for the film and set off on their quest. Yi merely has to be herself here, and she's cute and funny--a natural. Despite being a washout as an interviewer, her gawky charm endears her to the various couples she meets and encourages them to open up and reveal some warm, moving anecdotes about themselves. She also wins over a group of yakky kids in a playground and a raunchy gang of bikers and their chicks in a dive bar. These sequences are very appealing and the stories are sometimes augmented by funny re-enactments using crude paper dolls and crayola-scrawled scenery.

It's only when the contrived situation of her meeting and being wooed by the boring Michael sets in that the film starts to get bogged down. This is especially true when, having separated from Michael after he's unwilling to continue with the film project, a distraught Charlyne has to quit being herself and actually act. This is hard enough in a fictional setting, but it's even harder to be convincing when you're pretending that you aren't really acting. (All three leads seem artificial in these plot-moving scenes.) It's something that even much better actors are often unable to do--just think of all those fake "man-in-the-street" interviews you've seen that never quite capture the impression of real people talking. Also, the sound quality and multiple camera angles in these scenes are just too good to come off as on-the-fly documentary footage.

As the fictional story nudges its way to the forefront, we begin to look forward to the brief real-life interludes. One highlight occurs at a wedding chapel in Las Vegas that features its own Elvis impersonator. Another takes place in an empty courtroom as a male judge and a female lawyer recount their long-term love affair with a quiet, deep-seated affection. A visit with two gay guys in New York gets serious when one of them becomes emotional about the death of a former lover. These heartfelt segments, capturing genuine examples of true love that leave a lasting impression, only make the sham-doc parts of the movie seem even more shallow.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby surround and English and Spanish subtitles. Extras include featurettes "Paper Heart Uncut" and "The Making of Paper Heart", deleted scenes, an interesting live musical performance by Charlyne, the music video "Heaven" by Charlyne and Michael (who also scored the movie), and brief interviews with various actors and comedians about their views on love.

PAPER HEART is fun to watch when it's dealing with real people and their compelling love stories, but loses its lighthearted charm when it goes from doc to mock. Maybe it should've just been done as a straight documentary--Charlyne Yi has the bubbly personality to carry it for real, and who knows? They might've captured a serendipitous finale that resonates much more than the cute but hollow paper-doll fantasy that ends the movie.

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