The irony of Paper Heart is that the audience it sells short may remain the one that appreciates it most. After years of women serving as inscrutable muses in quirky indie films, finally a comedy not just led by the inscrutable muse, but co-written by her, too! So what if she remains inscrutable throughout?
Charlyne Yi, the woman in question, is a gawky, 23-year-old performer who has been compared to Andy Kaufman due to the uncertain degree of irony in her addle-brained whimsy. Yi, who claims never to have fallen in love, crosses America with an actor pretending to be director Nicholas Jasenovec (Jake M. Johnson) to interview young and old, male and female, expert and Elvis impersonator alike about their romantic experiences. While filming the documentary, Yi enters a relationship with the thinking woman's Shia LaBeouf, Superbad's Michael Cera (her then-IRL boyfriend, though these scenes are advertised as fictional).
You'd think a movie about a woman learning to accept the existence of love would spend some time exploring her purported inability to do so, but the scenes introducing Yi are beyond cursory. She performs alternative comedy, rolls with the Judd Apatow crowd, has parents and a best friend, and once thought a druggie was cute. That's about all we know before she starts posing in wedding dresses and seeking wisdom from bikers, rarely offering more of herself than the two-dimensional image of a geek out of water. Her passivity is underlined whenever Cera's on screen, playing himself as the indie dreamboat he is. Showing impressive game for the former George-Michael Bluth, Cera melts Yi's paper heart with wry asides, sentimental gestures, and unthreatening self-awareness. The 21 year old's baby face is finally starting to show some age, but with this kind of charisma he may segue into adulthood more gracefully than Anthony Michael Hall and Bud Cort combined.
Then again, Cera's still a Weezer fan chasing cute Asian girls who do nothing but giggle and play with toys. Just as he controls the dynamic of their relationship, Jasenovec controls the documentary -- so when her boyfriend finally tires of their omnipresent camera crew, Yi acts as if she has no choice in the matter. Her relationship with her own emotions is the obvious crux of the film, but we receive only the slightest glimpses of introspection -- a maudlin song here, a revealing fantasy there. Her character is so undeveloped that the best scenes reduce her on-screen role to puppeteer, acting out heartwarming anecdotes from her interview subjects with child-like invention.
The baffling Ione Skye didn't stop anyone from mooning over John Cusack in Say Anything, so it's likely Cera and a world that seems to be populated solely by snugglers (sex is so ignored you'd almost think Paper Heart was made by Mormons) will make the film worthwhile for anyone actually seeking more twee after (500) Days Of Summer. But the film's title serves as a caveat emptor: cute, but two-dimensional.