From its faux–Wes Anderson titles to the inevitable moment that Michael Cera picks up an acoustic guitar, “Paper Heart” wallows in that irritating hipster preciousness known as “twee” for nearly its entire running time.
A mock-documentary about comedian Charlyne Yi’s search for people who believe in true love, the film undercuts its few entertaining moments — all of which are provided by the real people who tell their relationship stories — by reenacting those courtship tales with cutesy puppets and Michel Gondry–esque, faux-naïf paper backgrounds.
“Paper Heart” presumes to follow Yi and her director friend Nicholas Jasenovec — the latter is actually portrayed on screen by actor Jake M. Johnson — as she travels the country to courtrooms, biker bars and playgrounds to ask people about love and how they’ve experienced it. (Since Yi played a supporting role in “Knocked Up,” some of the interviewees include actor pals like Seth Rogen, Martin Starr and Demetri Martin.)
The movie’s one good idea is to have Yi, who doesn’t believe in love, fall for a guy during filming and then attempt to build a relationship while Jasenovec chases the duo around with cameras, insisting that Yi’s love story is part of the documentary. Unfortunately, Yi falls in love with Michael Cera, and while he’s a wonderfully talented actor, he’s thoroughly unconvincing as himself.
The moment that Cera first walks on-camera, the whole movie’s vibe changes — while everyone else actually seems like they’re in a documentary, his performance immediately reads as “guy pretending like he’s not acting but is actually appearing nonchalantly in a non-fiction film.”
Not that Charlyne Yi is any better here — while I found her very funny and appealing in “Knocked Up,” in “Paper Heart” she mugs, pulls faces and emits a nervous bray of laughter seemingly every 10 seconds or so. It’s one of the most tangibly repellent lead performances in recent history, and I look forward to her return to playing characters that are not versions of herself.
If you were to pull out what are the presumably real-life moments here — the biker couple sharing their secrets of longevity, the judge and the attorney reminiscing about the moment he won her heart — you could probably assemble a sweet little short film, especially if you get rid of those overbearing puppets.
But why, after “Brüno” had to excise its LaToya Jackson footage, didn’t anyone think to cut the moment when the little girl on the playground says that Chris Brown is her ideal boyfriend? The footage was presumably shot before his alleged domestic violence incident with Rihanna, but it seems an odd choice not to leave it on the cutting room floor. Which is where about 90 percent of “Paper Heart” should have remained.