Charlyne Yi in Paper Heart (2009)

You know you're in quirky terrain from the outset when a diminutive twenty-something Asian-American woman stands in artificial Vegas hotel lights, proffering a microphone to random strangers, asking, "Have you ever been in love?" Yi plays a bit naive-girl, a bit giggly Amelie and a bit docu-maven as she chance-encounters American Joes, Janes and foreign tourists in the land of gambling and the quickie wedding chapel. That's how the 2009 mockumentary Paper Heart, (directed by Nicholas Jasenovec, co-written and co-produced by Charlyne Yi) begins.

We dial back into Charlyne Yi's life, complete with childhood home videos sound-tracked by her own "Here Comes the Bride" humming and crazy pajama-dancing with her sister. We find out that she's now a stand-up comedian with interviewable friends like Seth Rogen and Demitri Martin, all willing to aid and abet her in her quest for defining love.

Charlyne Yi and the director (who we find out in the credits is played by Jake M. Johnson posing as Jasenovec) take a trip across the country to interview a middle America cast of subjects ranging from an Elvis-impersonator preacher from Vegas; kids on a playground in Atlanta; bikers in a bar; and a number of elderly marrieds waxing nostalgic over the key to their coupled longevity. Yi's own handmade puppets arrive to animate some of these stories, adding another level of wacky silliness, which is clearly key to Yi's comedic persona. She's a little girl playing around just like in the home movies, and this is fun, goofy and highly charming. For a film otherwise shot in the neon or fluourescent glow of fast food restaurants, bars, basements, zoos, trailers, these are also the most aesthetically evolved sequences.

Enter Michael Cera, the lovably inept star of Juno and Arrested Development and the story takes a turn for the insincere. Now, before the visible eye of the camera crew, we watch as the "genuine romance" between Cera and Yi unfolds. Clearly it's the involvement of Cera that got the indie ball rolling and the arch approach to a faked authenticity goes south from here. In the midst of the "wink, wink-- we're just kidding, no we're not, wait are we kidding?" involutions, Charlyne Yi loses her drive and becomes a chess piece in the indie film game.

 

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