‘Paper Heart’ wears heart on its sleeve

‘PAPER HEART’ LITERALLY A LABOR OF LOVE: MAKING THE MOVIE

By Jessica Fryman

Inspired by her own doubts about finding true love, 23-year-old comedian Charlyne Yi decided to make a movie. Throughout the two-year filmmaking process, her idea turned into an adventure in which she tries to find the meaning of something everyone defines differently.

“Paper Heart,” opening today, follows Yi as she makes a documentary about her quest for love while on a road trip across the country. She stops in several cities to interview people about their personal experiences with love.

Yi teamed up with her friend, Nick Jasenovec, 29, to direct and write the film. Although Yi was not originally planning to be onscreen herself, her reactions to the vastly different people (bikers, Elvis impersonator, kids, couples) she interviews sets a humorous tone.

Yi, a Fontana native who has performed as a comedian at both The Steve Allen Theatre and The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, has a distinct style that she brings to “Paper Heart.” Sometimes spacey and awkward but always full of giggles, Yi has a quirkiness that adds a lot of light moments to her search.

The film is half-documentary, half-fiction. The crew filmed the real five-week road trip on which the cast traveled in a white van and stayed in shady hotels.

To add a narrative component, Jasonevec added in Yi’s fictional relationship with actor Michael Cera, who also wrote the music for the film with Yi.

Through their journey, Yi said she really did find the meaning of love, but to her it’s not “30 minutes on the back of a Harley” (although that is her favorite response to the question).

“In the beginning, I was more concerned with how uncertain love could be,” Yi said, during a recent interview while on the Skyfari ride high above the San Diego Zoo. “Nothing’s concrete. Then I realized ‘That’s life.’ ”

Although Yi and the rest of her team learned a lot along the way, they say the movie didn’t come without its challenges.

On the first day of filming, Cera’s flight didn’t make it to Toronto, so they had to shoot scenes with half the cast missing and hope there would be enough money to return to Toronto later.

Trying to keep the documentary feel and working with a small budget was also difficult, as they “lived the project,” Yi said. They filmed and traveled in the same 12-passenger van, which made the trip cramped, tiring and smelly.

“It felt like a band tour, a weird adventure,” said Jake Johnson, who portrays director Jasenovec in the film. “It was like a three-month-long anxiety attack, but with your friends.”

Working off an outline instead of a script allowed the cast and crew to be flexible along the road trip, which stretched from Los Angeles to Paris. Adding even more freedom of where to take the film came in the editing process, as producers sifted through 300 hours of footage for what became the 88-minute film.

Yi and Jasenovec’s fresh telling of a love story won the Waldo Scott Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Festival earlier this year.

So will their careers take off from here?

Jasenovec says, “They better.”

“Or else,” Yi chimes in, attempting to sound tough in her girly, childlike voice.

Yi, Jasenovec and Johnson are working on the early stages of what they hope will be a six-episode television show. If their idea gets picked up, the show would star Yi and Johnson in a series in the spirit of “The Princess Bride.”

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‘PAPER HEART’ PREVIEW

By Jessica Fryman

When it comes to romantic comedies, you’d be hard-pressed to find one dramatically different from another, but “Paper Heart” comes close to setting itself apart. This low-budget film takes a unique perspective to tell a charming love story about a girl who’s not quite sure about the meaning of true love.

The movie follows Charlyne Yi (writer and star) as she makes a documentary in search of love with her friend and director, Nick Jasenovec (played by Jake Johnson). On a road trip across the United States and then on to Paris and Toronto, Yi interviews people she meets along the way – only to find that no one describes love the same way.

The film’s humor stems in large part from the responses: A group of kids say they know what love is because they are in love with singer Chris Brown; an Elvis impersonator at a Las Vegas chapel recounts a scenario in which the groom wasn’t sure of the bride’s last name. The respondents also account for the touching, romantic side to this movie: Love is the person you see in a near-death experience or someone you can’t be without.

While some of the interviewees are describing their experiences with love, paper puppets “act” out their stories, providing a visual element. Although the finger puppets are somewhat cheesy, they give the movie a natural, do-it-yourself feel.

The incredibly real answers from the actual documentary mix with a fictional story line when Yi meets and starts a relationship with actor Michael Cera. This is also the movie’s weak point, though, because it makes the ending somewhat predictable (like most romantic comedies).

These stories were originally published in The San Diego Union-Tribune
on Aug. 7, 2009.
Original story on The San Diego Union-Tribune website.