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LAFF Review: Paper Heart

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Before diving into a review of the wonderful Paper Heart, allow me to relate an episode from last night's screening. I think it provides a key insight into the whimsical mind of Charlyne Yi. Following the screening, Charlyne and director Nicholas Jasenovec sat down for a Q&A. Ten minutes in, Charlyne excused herself to the restroom. Moments later, she returned. Except she didn't. A man dressed exactly like her entered the theater and continued the Q&A as her. It's just that sort of innocent guile that makes Paper Heart so winning.

Inventively structured as a hybrid between a documentary and narrative fiction film, Paper Heart follows Charlyne and her director, Nick*, on a trip around the country as she listens to people telling her their own love stories and trying to explain what love is. A parallel narrative follows Charlyne back in Los Angeles as she meets and begins to date -- who else -- Michael Cera. Understand, the narratives in America's Heartland are completely genuine while the romance with Cera is entirely artificial. And yet the film works seamlessly.

* The actual director of the film, Nicholas Jasenovec, is played by actor Jake Johnson.

The primary reason it all gels, of course, is the spectacularly winning presence of Yi. Whether she is interviewing an elderly couple in Oklahoma or a team of scientists in Texas (or even a biker bar full of hellraisers), she is always the most interesting person on the screen, even when she is just staring in silent amazement. There's just something about her that attracts you, that interests you, that makes you root for her and it's because of that -- it's only because of that -- that the film works so well.

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This is not to denigrate the work of director Jasenovec, however. The balance he strikes between the real and the artificial is incredibly difficult and barely wavers throughout the film. When Charlyne and Michael Cera are having lunch in a diner and then later kissing on his couch, you believe it's real despite the fact that you absolutely know it isn't. That's rare control of your subject. Couple that with the undeniable star presence of Yi (though she'd deny it) and you get a film that is not only funny and warm, but challenging and really inventive.

Paper Heart is going to face an interesting challenge when it reaches theaters. I can't imagine anyone watching it and not enjoying it, but I'm equally sure that many people will resist seeing it because of the distinct documentary feel of it. That would be a huge mistake. Comedies are typically funny because of the inherent cruelty in them; we laugh because it isn't us. What separates Paper Heart, though, is a gentleness of spirit and an equally sharp wit that separates it from the ordinary film. Make sure to check it out.

Paper Heart screens again on Friday, June 26th at 5:00 pm at the Landmark. Tickets are available here..