Just finished watching 2009’s Paper Heart, the first movie from the young comedian/musician/performer Charlyne Yi. It’s a “hybrid documentary” – part documentary, part augmented creative output, part too-clever-by-half self-referential Sundance-y journey of self-discovery minus the little yellow bus. The film chronicles her attempt to find out about love, what creates it, sustains it, and makes it known; and specifically about herself. Charlyne – “Chuck” – has never been in love; she feels deficient, defective; wonders if she’s missing key chemicals; wonders if she’ll ever love or be loved. It’s sad.
She and director Nicholas Jasenovec, played by Jake Johnson, travel around the country asking people things like “how do you know you’re in love"?”. Interspersed with the interviews are puppet-show sequences that nominally describe stories from the interviewees. I’m guessing Seattle Weekly editors rolled their eyes when they watched the movie, but I thought they were creative.
That’s the structure. The key drama begins to take shape when she meets fellow quirky young thing Michael Cera at a party; the film shifts gears to document their growing (actual) courtship. They’re cute and awkward; they do and say mad stupid things to each other that I can only imagine people in L.A. doing or saying; they move from tight, uncomfortable silences to hammy home-video montage, they eat pizza; they kiss.
It’s sincerely derivative. Yet, at the same time, Charlyne is such an enigma that one can’t help but wonder: Is she really this awkward in real life? I found myself thinking about her creative output, the shows she presents, and wondering if there isn’t some vast reservoir of creative genius that lurks behind the monotonicity of her interactions. A few times, when she’s laughing, authentically laughing, I “got” the attraction.
Best part for me: right near the end of the film, Charlyne puts on a melodramatic puppet show, and in the voiceover, she says:
Life is too short to be wondering “what if?”. Sometimes you just gotta live and see what happens, even if you get hurt. Sometimes you can only feel something if you take a risk.
This is not Charlyne speaking, not the Charlyne of the first 88 minutes of the film, anyway. Could it be who she really is, beneath the careful exterior management? Fascinating.
For me, for now, right now, this passage is advisory, confirming notions rolling around in my head about love, relationships, people. Don’t be afraid of risk. Realize that yes, life is very fucking short. Risk getting hurt. Be authentic.
I’ll let you know how it goes. My journey won’t end up in Park City next January, but you may find enough pieces here to construct your own documentary.
The pursuit continues.