- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

Think of “Paper Heart” as the earnest, though slightly manipulative, little sister of “Borat” and “Bruno.”

This charming film follows musician, comedian and actress Charlyne Yi as she travels across America, trying to understand the one thing she’s never felt — love. She interviews scientists, authors, songwriters and long-married couples, going everywhere from Las Vegas wedding chapels to Middle American biker bars. These segments are all real — and often bracingly honest, too.

Then there’s the Charlyne Yi, who, in the middle of all this, reluctantly finds herself pursued by an actor named Michael Cera — she’s a character played by Charlyne Yi, and he’s a character played by Michael Cera, the popular young star of the comedy hits “Superbad” and “Juno.”

Confused? You shouldn’t be. America’s obsession with “reality” has changed the way we watch television and spawned an industry of fake memoirs whose authors in years past would have simply marketed them as novels. It was only a matter of time before filmmakers joined Sacha Baron Cohen in the genre.

Miss Yi is an unlikely romantic lead. She pokes fun at her frumpy ponytail in a stand-up bit, and even her friend and director, Nicholas Jasenovec (who’s actually played by an actor, Jake M. Johnson) makes jokes about her lack of hygiene. That approachability makes it easy to be carried along with her conceit.

Unlike in Mr. Baron Cohen’s films, the aim here isn’t to make fun of the interviewees — though many certainly are funny. Romance novelist Sarah Baker insists there’s no formula to her genre — except that you need a relationship, a struggle and a happy ending. Charlyne talks to a wide cross section of society, from a 10-year-old who sounds like a slick preacher while advising that the best date involves a movie, a sunset and a “French Riviera restaurant” to her famous friends, such as Seth Rogen, in whose film “Knocked Up” she had a small part.

Charlyne finds love across the country — though the women talk more about their relationships than the men — but can’t seem to feel it in her own heart. Michael is certainly winsome and, as Charlyne points out to a hilariously off-the-mark psychic, a pretty good catch. His easygoing encouragement seems a perfect match for the low-key Charlyne. But while he follows her around the shoots now and then, she might have to become the pursuer when he tires of never hearing that one little four-letter word.

The real-life stories of married couples are whimsically illustrated with paper puppets; there’s plenty of quirk on offer here. But though some of the emotions portrayed are fake, “Paper Heart” ultimately is a heartfelt film that wears its sincerity on its sleeve.

★★★

TITLE: “Paper Heart”

RATING: PG-13 (some language)

CREDITS: Directed by Nicholas Jasenovec. Written by Mr. Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi.

RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

WEB SITE: paperheart-movie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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