Recently a close friend of mine went through a break up. We met up to talk about it, or rather, we met up so I could be his wailing wall for a couple hours. I’ve been on his side of the table before so I offered the best advice I could. Having your heart crushed is a ritual. It’s a dance. It’s a rite of passage. The reason I think that is because almost everybody has to go through it, sometimes more than once.
There is a girl in Paper Heart, Charlyne Yi, who hasn’t fallen in love and wants to know what it’s like. So this is like a documentary following her around the country while she talks to people about their relationships, both current and past.When people talk about how they met, there are some rudimentary re-enactments of how it happened using paper cut-outs and diorama like settings. It’s an inventive and low budget technique I really liked. I think this movie would have worked pretty well using these little paper segments intercut with interviews of random strangers throughout the U.S. But of course that’s too simple. They had to go and complicate things.
I knew something wasn’t right when Charlyne sat down with Demetri Martin. Was it scripted? Was it an authentic exchange? I could tell you there was nothing authentic about talking to Demetri Martin. And that was enough for me to start questioning why they even went out to try and make this a documentary. But it gets worse.
Charlyne shows up to a party. Michael Cera’s there. He’s playing guitar, and impressing his friends with his musicianship skills. Charlyne avoids talking to him. They share a couple words together and then she leaves. But the camera guys stay on Michael as he asks his friend who Charlyne is, and where she came from. Michael if you’re that interested you should probably ask the camera guys. They’ll tell you that you’re in a documentary about love. They might even tell you that you’re about to be one of its main subjects.
Already this movie just wasn’t feeling feel right. I thought reality TV was condescending. Everybody plays to the cameras. It’s the same deal here, except there’s an added pretense behind it like we’re supposed to believe Charlyne and Michael have never met until this party. I didn’t like being played around like that.
But it gets worse still. Michael keeps showing up and they start going on dates. Then later, Michael gets mad at the camera guys for following them around everywhere. Perhaps Charlyne should have explained that they were doing a documentary about love. Michael gets incontinent about it and leaves Charlyne in the dust. It’s just her and her camera guy. For awhile you think they’re going to become romantically involved too. Throughout all of this, Charlyne doesn’t know if she loved Michael, but she’s also sad so that could mean something? The people in the movie and the people watching the movie have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on. What a fun thing to be a part of.
For the first time in a film, “telling” is more compelling than “showing”. People will talk to Charlyne about their relationships, and it’s fun. But Charlyne will bumble around, showing us a girl in search of what love is, and it comes across weirdly inauthentic, and yes…scripted.