For general audiences, the most pertinent question to ask about Paper Heart is this: can a super-modest, extremely indie romantic comedy starring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera possibly be too precious? The answer is that, for some, it certainly could be -- but objectively speaking, preciousness is the name of the game here. Cera's brand of stammering, you-can-borrow-my-hoodie sweetness is long-standing, and Yi's take on the schtick is like a vintage Casiotone turned up to 11. So as long as you know what you're getting into, you can expect to be delighted -- because if Paper Heart is anything, it's buoyantly delightful.
Despite its exceedingly unassuming tone, the film is actually a pretty interesting creative exercise. It's a scripted story in which Yi plays herself, teaming up with a filmmaker and crew to travel the country making a documentary about the meaning of love (which Yi has never experienced). But the documentary portions, and the odd mix of people she interviews on the topic, are real. She talks to elderly couples and Elvis impersonators, to members of a biker gang and proprietors of a Vegas wedding chapel, each, of course, offering a mix of touching and humorous insight. In between the real documentary segments from the pretend movie within the movie (and the intermittent use of hand-drawn stick puppets), there's a narrative storyline about Yi meeting Cera (also playing himself) at a party, and beginning a relationship that soon becomes the focus of the movie-within-the-movie. This complicates things for the couple, who are already treading lightly because of Yi's inexperience, and their pre-existing adorably awkward natures.
No doubt, this movie is twee within an inch of its life, but it's also very charming, and very funny. The cutesiness is pretty severe, but it appears to be totally genuine. Even though Yi's story is fiction (or at least fictionalized -- she and Cera did actually date), she's still either playing herself, or playing a caricature of herself ridiculously well, because every childish grin and earnestly composed love song feels 100% real. You have to love the girl, with her messy ponytail, big glasses, and oversized sweaters. And there's no end to the novelty of a human so endearingly gawky that she makes Michael Cera look like a swaggering badass.
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