What’s love got to do with it?

Paper Heart may not be groundbreaking in its take on love but it does offer up some interesting new ideas about the nature of film narrative

Charlyne Yi tries to tap into her inner-bride in Paper Heart.
Charlyne Yi tries to tap into her inner-bride in Paper Heart.
Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi are an off-beat couple who have some serious chemistry.
Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi are an off-beat couple who have some serious chemistry.

To call actress, musician and comedian Charlyne Yi awkward would be an understatement. You may vaguely recognize Yi from her stoner-girl performance in Knocked Up—she’s the type of girl that often gets overlooked, which makes her latest flick refreshing to watch.

In Paper Heart Yi’s fictionalized version of herself travels to likely and no-so-likely places in the U.S. to ask the big question: What is love?

The quirky romantic pseudo-documentary—a largely unexplored genre—leaves the audience with just as many questions to Yi herself. Like, how much of this film is real? And, were you really dating Michael Cera? Is it true he dumped you for Ellen Page?

Alright, that last one may be a rumour I secretly want to be true. But there’s no doubt Yi is a girl shrouded in mystery. Her Myspace page claims she’s 33, which highlights Yi’s complete and utter cluelessness or her brilliant publicist—the inaccurate reporting of Cera and Yi’s age difference had Internet discussion boards buzzing. It’s also hard to tell whether or not her shtick is legit.

In Paper Heart Yi meets up with a director, Nicholas Jasenovec, the films actual director, who’s played by the much more Hollywood-friendly actor Jake M. Johnston. The two decide to make a documentary about love. Yi’s inability to find love is puzzling to her and she wants answers. Along the way, Yi meets Michael Cera—the pretend version of himself—at a party where he creepily knows her name and scopes her out.

At first Yi is completely turned off by Cera’s apparent interest in her but she slowly becomes smitten with Cera’s quirky clumsiness—throughout the film it’s hard to decipher who’s more anxious. It feels like they’re having some sort of unspoken competition as to who can be more awkward.

Paper Heart’s true strength lies in its unconventionality. It’s nice to see a girl like Yi on screen. She’s not some Disney cookie-cutter star, nor is she the most articulate actress. But she does represent a large bracket of girls who go largely underrepresented in film. She feels pressures from a variety of sources to look and act a certain way and to, of course, fall in love.

Yi is much more stubborn than unlovable. Her apprehension to falling in love is another novel take on the classic love story. She isn’t frantic nor is her search for love. She’s simply a laid-back girl, unlike the sex-crazed husband-hunters we’re used to seeing in most romantic comedies.

That’s is not to say that Yi and Cera lack chemistry. They’re completely believable and endearing to watch. Cera reprises his role as the Michael Cera archetype, but there is an earnestness in his performance that hasn’t been seen in some of his other roles. The way he looks at Yi is enviable.

The film’s self-reflexive nature works on many levels, offering both a comment on the nature of fiction filmmaking and the social pressures put on most relationships. The faux film crew gets in the way of Yi and Cera’s romance. The director Jasenovec cares for Yi and wants her relationship with Cera to work out, but insists on having every moment filmed. This constant eye places a substantial amount of pressure on the quirky couple.

The film crew and director are a reference to the unrealistic expectations most mainstream films also place on couples. We all know things aren’t the way they are in the movies, but that sure as hell doesn’t stop us from trying.

Interspersed with realistic first-hand accounts of a variety of different love stories, we watch Yi and Cera play the dating game. Their courtship is shown through a series of montages, songs and a handful of so-adorable-I-want-to-throw-up scenes. The twee soundtrack was also almost completely recorded by the two.

Ultimately the couple can’t take the heat and the filming causes a major rift between our unlikely lovers. Yi takes an underwhelming trip to Paris, France and an overwhelming trip to Brampton, Ont. in an attempt to figure it all out.

But just when Paper Heart feels like it’s going to truly change our conceptions of love, it falls back on formulaic conventions we can’t seem to get away from. Although the ending is ambiguous, the film actually reaffirms many of our collective notions about romantic love.

Paper Heart does manage to provoke our understanding of film narrative and shows love between many people who are all-too often inadequately represented in popular culture.

Anti-love, actually

Paper Heart got us thinking about other anti-love films...

• À bout de souffle (Breathless)

• Double Jeopardy

• The Shape of Things

• Dial M for Murder

• Fatal Attraction

• Cruel Intentions

• Lost in Translation

• 500 Days of Summer

• High Fidelity

—Ally Hall and Emily Whalen

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