Paper Heart is partly a documentary about the nature and possibility of love and partly a fictional narrative about Charlyne Yi’s burgeoning romance with Michael Cera. Yi, a comedian and musician, has never been in love and doesn’t believe that she will ever love anyone else. She sets out with director Nicholas Jasenovec (played by Jake M. Johnson) to interview people from all walks of life about love in the hope of discovering how relationships develop and survive.
The film begins with Yi on the streets of Las Vegas trying to get someone to talk to her about love. We then cut to a home movie of Yi as a child marrying two of her stuffed toys. Yi and her best friend Gil are interviewed about Yi’s opinions on love and relationships. Gil believes that despite what she says, Yi does believe in love. The first series of interviews are with Yi’s actor friends such as Seth Rogan, Martin Starr and Demetri Martin. Yi also interviews several scientists regarding the physiological and chemical mechanisms of love before visiting a biker bar, a psychic, a playground in Atlanta and several Vegas wedding chapels. Lengthier interviews are conducted with three couples and a divorced man. Each of these “regular folk” has a story about love that is meaningful to him or her, such as the traumatic birth of a child or the chance meeting that sparked romance, and these stories are animated with puppets and paper in a style that mimics Michel Gondry at his most creative. The crux of the interviews is that love is a joyful but elusive feeling and no one particular view is favored by Yi.
The interviews are interwoven with scenes of Yi and Cera as they grow closer. Yi meets Cera at a house party and takes an immediate dislike to him. However, she gives him a chance once the director prods her a little. Cera runs into Yi and her crew filming at the zoo and the two make weekend plans. Yi and Cera are shown via montage on several dates; bowling, playing guitar, grocery shopping. Soon they are holding hands and even kissing, though Yi refuses to say that she is falling in love and the director refuses to stop filming them even for a moment. The constant presence of the cameras and the director eventually causes problems for Cera, but Yi wants to finish her project. The director invites Yi and Cera to his home for a meeting and announces that everyone will spend several days in Paris. The director believes that filming Yi and Cera in Paris and in love would make a hopeful ending to the film because Yi has found love at last. Yi responds “But I haven’t,” and both Yi and Cera question the honesty of the trip. Cera, annoyed by the cameras and by the director’s manipulation of his relationship with Yi, breaks it off.
Yi and her crew travel to Paris without Cera. It is clear that Yi is lethargic and upset. After 12 hours of filming her walking around Paris alone, Yi asks to go back to the hotel. The director confronts her regarding Cera and Yi says that she’s sad because Cera wants her to love him and she can’t. The next morning, Yi has an epiphany: she’s not in love with Cera yet, but she knows that she isn’t ready to lose him either. Yi and her crew travel to Cera’s family home in Toronto, but when Cera opens the door, Yi insists that the cameras stay out. Yi and Cera go inside and we hear the beginning of their conversation: Yi admits that she’s missed Cera and Cera concurs. The director realizes that Yi’s mike is still on and asks his cameraman to turn it off, finally giving the couple some privacy.
The film ends with another animated sequence. This time, it is the story of Yi and Cera’s escape from Toronto on a motorcycle with the police in pursuit. The police shoot the motorcycle and Yi and Cera crash, but the police let them go after Yi gives a rousing speech. Yi carries Cera off to LA on her shoulders. Yi and Cera’s voices are heard agreeing that this is indeed what happened.
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