"Everyone's definition of love is so different," Charlyne Yi says during her mission to find out if love exists in her new film, Paper Heart. She doesn't believe in love or the idea of finding a soul mate, so she travels the globe in an effort to explain it, but runs into a conundrum. Love is unexplainable. You can ask as many people as you want and search everywhere, but you don't know love until you've found it.
But dammit, Yi is certainly going to try. My maudlin theory is pure speculation as far as she is concerned. She follows the logical way of thinking. She doesn't believe in something unless she has seen it or it has been scientifically proven. Her curiosity leads her down many different paths, and she does indeed confront scientists, but they have little explanation other than, "There's a little magic involved." But any magician will tell you magic is a falsity, so this plays into Charlyne's initial belief that love is not real. That is until she meets Michael Cera, who plays himself (which he's been doing since Superbad anyway, so he's comfortable), and starts to wonder if her skepticism may have been unfounded.
On her quest, Yi interviews people of all different backgrounds with vastly different experiences. She talks to a man who explains that finding love is difficult because it has to be a mutual feeling, two gay men, one of whom was in love with his previous boyfriend who died at a presumably early age, and a couple who got married at 17 and still love each other now all these years later. One viewpoint sees true love as an improbability, if not an impossibility, another sees it as painful and temporary due to the fragility of human life, and another sees it as undoubtedly real and the only thing in the world that matters. These different perspectives work well for the movie because it keeps Yi wary of love, without a clear answer, and it makes her exploration of it much more interesting and poignant.
Paper Heart is based on the real life relationship between Cera and Yi and is shot like a documentary, playing like a (drastically) toned down version of Brüno, and is intelligently done, in a way that makes it difficult to tell whether or not what is happening onscreen is real. If it weren't for a few visual clues, like the way it is edited or the intercutting footage that seems unnecessary to the purpose of the movie, one might believe this faux narrative. But whereas Brüno was obviously fake, Paper Heart tries to bridge the gap between mockumentary and documentary, playing its fallacies as actuality, which works to its advantage, making the love story feel realistic and heartfelt.
And it is surprisingly affecting, thanks mainly to Cera's boyish charm, delivering his typical soft spoken sense of humor, shyly approaching Yi and hinting that he is interested. His experience with women seems limited and his bashfulness comes off as adorable. One can't help but root for him and hope that he can break down Yi's defenses and leap into her heart.
As with any romance film, you have the initial romantic spark, followed by a conflict that tears them apart before finally coming to some type of resolution, but all of this happens too quickly here and doesn't seem authentic. At a short runtime of one hour and 28 minutes, Paper Heart flies by, foolishly limiting our time with these characters. Considering that Cera and Yi are dating in real life, it's disheartening to see it move with such haste because they have a genuine chemistry (natch).
Though the film isn't perfect, I enjoyed my time with it, despite one major drawback that seriously puts a detriment on the whole affair. Yi is a quirky and charming young woman, with a likeability that permeates through the screen...for about twenty minutes. Then her cheerfulness begins to dissolve and I found myself annoyed by her incessant silliness and unfunny banter. The fun parts of the movie are when her and Cera are together. The rest is somewhat boring.
There are unquestionably some rough patches here and it might be tough for some viewers to make it through this one, but Paper Heart has enough good hearted warmth to justify a recommendation.
Paper Heart receives 3/5