Verdict: An intriguing offbeat rom-com cleverly disguised as a doco.
A fictitious romance, real people sharing their experiences, and handmade cardboard puppets all come together charmingly in this unique documentary about love by American comedian and singer Charlyne Li.
Co-written with the film's director Nicholas Jasenovec, Li plays a fictionalised version of herself as a young woman who doesn't believe in or understand love. To rectify this, she heads off on a road trip across the US with Jasenovec (played by actor Jake M. Johnson) to collect love stories from the people they meet, who also contribute their thoughts on finding and keeping true love.
Li is both an unusual and perfect choice to drive this film. She doesn't have the charisma of an onscreen personality - in fact she comes across as camera-shy and a touch goofy - but she is interested in people, and makes the few questions she does ask count.
She is happy to listen more than talk and her subjects are comfortable sharing their amusing and heartwarming stories. These stories are then reconstructed by Li using puppets in cardboard sets, aided by her own quirky musical score. It's a whimsical idea, and contrasts nicely with her own scepticism about love.
The fictionalised and contrived element of this film kicks in on the road when Li conveniently meets a boy she's interested in, actor Michael Cera (playing himself), and the two start to "hang out".
The pair are already shy and nervous, so Jasenovec's insistence the camera crew follow them understandably makes it awkward and uncomfortable. Both do a brilliant job of making their budding romance feel real and it fits in nicely as an accidental part of this documentary.
The switch in focus to their relationship about three quarters of the way through starts to drag the film down though, and there are a couple of details that do their story a disservice - such as the fact that Li doesn't know who Cera is.
It's such a simple idea, making a documentary about love while playing out your own romance, but what's refreshing about Paper Heart is its uplifting subject matter, and the novel way in which it's portrayed. It's not perfect, it does lose momentum, but Paper Heart is a nice antidote for the fairytales that make up most rom-coms. It's sweet, honest and real (well, almost) and a reminder that love blossoms in many different ways.
Cast: Michael Cera, Charlyne Yi
Director: Nicholas Jasenovec
Running time: 88 mins
Rating: M (low level offensive language)