London Film Festival Review: Paper Heart

By Nick Deigman on 21 Oct 2009

People are calling Paper Heart a mockumentary; but that word doesn’t seem to do the film justice because it bears no resemblance or heritage whatsoever to Spinal Tap. Paper Heart is really an honest study on the nature of ‘love’; it is a quirky docu-drama that blends narrative sequences with documentary footage, and weaves the two together so that they inform and affect each other. And if that doesn’t grab you, there are also some fantastic Gondry-esque animated sequences and original music from the poster boy of geek-chic, Michael Cera.

Charlyne Yi, a comedienne from California, has always wanted to make a documentary about real love (as opposed to the “Julia Roberts/ English Patient/ sobbing-in-the-rain stuff”); but it was not until she approached friend and director Nick Jasenovec that Paper Heart began to form as an idea. Jasenovec forced Yi to accept that the film would be better if she placed herself, and her staunchly anti-love mindset, in front of the camera. When she confessed to being nervous, Jasenovec suggested they incorporate a scripted narrative into the documentary so that she could feel like she was ‘acting’. And so this fascinating new medium of docu-drama was born.

Yi and Jasenovec have gone to great lengths to ensure that the whole film feels real. The documentary footage and the scripted scenes are shot in exactly the same style, so that we never feel a jarring effect when we cross from one to the other; and they decided to cast an actor to play Nick, as Jake Johnson is more realistic as Nick than Nick would have been!

The result is a mish-mash of genres that really draws the viewer into the heart and message of the story. This is a buddy/ road trip movie about two friends travelling across America trying to find the meaning of love. But it is also a heart-warming romance story looking at the courting process in all its awkward splendour. As Charlyne “falls in love” with Cera, her real-life character begins to change as her questions to complete strangers become more hopeful and romantic.

There are so many things about the film that could have been annoying: it is a “film-about-a-film” (often pretentious), it is created by quirky, American Apparel youngsters from East LA (often pretentious), and it has episodes of animation to help describe the interviews (which can often be… well you get the picture.) But the story is so refreshing and honest that it would be almost impossible to find anything annoying here.

In the end, Nick becomes hell-bent on finishing the film, and his intrusive camera nearly ruins Charlyne and Michael’s relationship. But whether or not their romance survives is irrelevant (it doesn’t even exist!), the important thing is that Charlyne has learned to accept the possibility of love, and the lack of control we have over it.

★★★★

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