Charlyne Yi is a mopey Plain Jane in her hoodie and fashionably unfashionable glasses, a conceptual comic, an Andy Kaufman for the viral-video generation. You can find her more-quizzical-than-funny sketches all over YouTube. She was right at home as the no-energy token female stoner in Knocked Up.
She won a screenwriting prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Paper Heart, a mockumentary about her search for love, something she professes not to believe in — until, that is, she "meets" her onetime real-life boyfriend, supersensitive Superbad star Michael Cera. Some of the movie is supposedly "real" — man- and woman-on-the-street interviews — some of it is scripted, and some of it is deep, amusing or both.
It all adds up to a film romance of randomness in which a twentysomething asks random folks random questions about the great love of their lives and searches for one of those herself. Paper Heart gets by on easygoing charm, rather like Yi herself, whose low-fi comedy is built upon us rooting for her, perhaps hoping that surely there's more magnetism to her than this.
Her disarming persona is showcased in her interviews — with an Elvis-impersonating justice of the peace at a Vegas wedding chapel, with an old married couple who tell her to "wait for the lightning bolt," a divorce court judge, a romance novelist, old marrieds and a long-together gay couple.
She illustrates many of the stories she hears with adorable cut-out puppets.
In between interviews and puppet shows, Yi flirts with Cera, who is smitten by her cheek- cracking smile. He "acts" put off by the crew's efforts to film everything about her search for love — especially their dates. Rumor has it that they've broken up. Really.
Yi chats with her director, Nicholas Yasenovich, who is behind the camera while an actor plays director "Nick" in the film.
Can this young woman who confesses that "all my ideas about love come from movies" discover the real thing, and with a movie star, no less? Or is the whole affair so "conceptual" as to keep us from caring? Paper Heart confirms that the jury's still out on both.