Sunday, January 18, 2009


Sundance 2009 Review: "Paper Heart"
US Dramatic Competition

Gene Siskel liked to pose this question in his reviews: "Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" "Paper Hearts" pretends to be a documentary about its actors, and even includes lunch scene. If its depiction is even remotely close to the real life scene, I'll order in.

Nicholas Jasenovec's film stars Charlyne Yi as herself, as she and Jasenovec, played not by himself, but by Jake M. Johnson, travel the country to make a documentary about her quest to discover love. Poor Charlyne doesn't believe in love, but Nick hopes to change her mind. They interview people in six different cities and towns about their relationships, but these vignettes have no relation to the film's main story, about Yi's attempted romance with Michael Cera.

You'd think that Yi, who co-wrote the movie, would want to make herself a more interesting character, seeing as she's depicting her own personality. While funny in small doses in film's like "Knocked Up," her cutesy goofiness can't sustain a feature. She spends half her screen time repeating the meaningless mantra that she still doesn't believe in love. I don't know why the supposed documentary would need her. She doesn't inject the interviews with any good questions or a compelling personality. A better film could have been made about any of the interviewees.

Jasenovec makes the film itself a major plot point, as Charlyne tries to build a relationship with Michael while a film crew follows them. Jasenovec succeeds in upholding the film's conceit, but fails to create any genuine emotional resonance with his characters. The gimmick is yet another layer of distraction in a film that never gets to know its characters.

The filmmakers layout the entire plot with some very clumsy foreshadowing, rendering the film's resolution completely inevitable. Perhaps if the story had more to it than a series of drones about the meaning of love, the foreshadowing would have felt more organic, or at least less obnoxious. But the dialogue only has any aim when it telegraphs what will happen next. And when there aren't any characters, it's hard to care.

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