Is there anything more heartwarming than watching a little girl officiating at the marriage of two of her favorite dolls? Is there a purer form of love than the kind that a pre-pubescent might project onto the union of a plush Miss Piggy and a put-upon Kermit the Frog? Charlyne Yi, a nerdy, 23-year-old "musician/comedian" (as a title card informs us) from Los Angeles, preserves forever this example of happily-ever-after on the home video that opens Nicholas Jasenovec's "hybrid documentary."
But something's been lost between these Muppet nuptials and the onset of adulthood, as we discover when the bespectacled Charlyne takes to the Las Vegas strip with a comically large microphone in hand. Aware that she might "end up a lonely old spinster," the demure Asian, shadowed by a small video-production crew, sheepishly asks passers-by: "Has anyone ever been in love?" Unconvinced that true love exists, or at least feeling she's never experienced it, Charlyne taps old friend Nick (Jake Johnson) to videotape her as she travels the country interviewing people about relationships. Along the way, she speaks to bikers, scientists, a wedding-chapel-owning Elvis impersonator, a romance novelist, a pair of happy couples who've celebrated golden anniversaries, and even one man who keeps an ex-lover's ashes on his shelf.
Paper Heart |Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec | Written by Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi with Charlyne Yi, Michael Cera, and Jake Johnson | Overture Films | 89 Minutes
READ: An interview with Charlyne Yi. By Brett Michel
One thing Charlyne's title card fails to mention is that she's a talented artist. Paper Heart doesn't just cut back and forth between interviewer and subject. It treats us to extravagantly lo-fi interludes featuring handcrafted dolls — shades of Kermit and Miss Piggy — that she's created to visualize the tales of amore we're being told. Even the Michel Gondry of Be Kind Rewind would envy what she accomplishes with cardboard, tinfoil, and pipe cleaners in her father's garage. These segments give a surreal pop to the film's probing quest.
What's more, Nick isn't just following Charlyne on the road. Back home in LA, we see her meeting his friend actor Michael Cera (Juno) at a house party, and soon a new element is added to the plot: the potential boyfriend. Nick feels that this budding romance will provide the perfect arc to structure the road story, and he persuades Charlyne and Michael to allow him to tape them whenever they're together. No surprise, this unrestricted access begins to wear on the couple.
As Sarah Baker — the romance novelist Charlyne interviews — points out, the inevitable formula for a love story is romance, then conflict, and finally resolution. Nick seems especially keen on this formula, and intent on facilitating it for the sake of his movie.
Still, is this the "hybrid" aspect of his "documentary"? Or is the fact that Nick is played not by the director of the film, Nicholas Jasenovec, but by an actor, Jake Johnson. Think about that as the closing credits roll and perhaps you'll be every bit as charmed as I was.