Charlyne Yi goes looking for love in 'Paper Heart'

Paper Heart
Nick Janesovek (Jake Johnson) Michael Cera and Charlyne Yi meet in "Paper Heart." The film, a mixture of documentary and fiction explores whether love exists.
Image courtesy Overture Films

You are going to have to pay close attention to this. Here's the set-up.

"A character named Charlyne Yi, which is myself," says Charlyne Yi, "Sets out out on a journey to make a documentary about love, and along the way she meets a character called Michael Cera. Oh, and she doesn't believe in love."

Did you get that? She doesn't believe in love. So she interviews lots of different people around the United States. She also falls, after a fashion, for Michael Cera, the buttoned down star of "Juno," "Superbad," and "Year One."

"What are you guys filming?" Cera asks when they meet at a party.

"A documentary," Yi replies.

"What is it about?" asks Cera.

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"It's about I don't believe in love," she says.

"Will this be in the movie? This scene?"

"It's very weird and surreal."

"Probably not," says Yi.

"Cool," says Cera, apparently believing her. "Awesome."

Now this is where it begins to get confusing. Yi and Cera have been linked in real life, but this part of the movie is fiction. Then there's the whole thing with Jake Johnson who also appears in "Paper Heart."

"I play the director of the documentary within the movie," Johnson says. "And, honestly just to confuse things, my characters name is actually the director of the real movie Nick Jasenovec."

And people can keep this straight?

"I think once you watch the film it's easy to see what's real, and what's not," says Yi. "All the interviews are real. Everything with Jake, Michael and myself, that's a narrative, that's false."

The hope is the blend of fact and fiction will lead to some greater understanding of love.

Johnson and Yi
Jake Johnson and Charlyne Yi give what they call the "Paper Heart salute." Their movie was made on a shoestring and so they endured long days on the road. They say the salute helped them through,
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

Charlyne Yi is an unlikely guide through matters of the heart. A 23-year-old comedian and musician, she's best known for a bit part she played as a stoner girlfriend in the comedy "Knocked Up."

It was Yi who came up with the idea for a documentary about love, and pitched it to Jasenovec.

"I was just planning on being off-camera and co-directing it with him," she says." But he he was like 'You should be on-screen, so we could see it through your eyes." And his hope was that I would have 'an arc' and find love 'During the making of.'"

But Yi wasn't comfortable with that, so they came up with the plan to use Michael Cera. Jake Johnson says there wasn't really a script. In fact all they had to go with for the whole movie was a five-page outline.

"Everything was improvised," he says. "Because we wanted the dialog to feel as natural as it could because it was going to be right next to a documentary so we didn't want things too scripted even though we had plot-points that we had to do."

Yi and Johnson met an amazing array of real people. There are couples who have been in love for 50 years. There's a gay couple, who talk about their first date, when when one found the ashes of his new lover's former boyfriend on the mantelpiece.

The crew of "Paper Heart" travelled the length and breadth of the country to interview people about the subject of love
Image courtesy of Overture Films

They talked to scientists about the physiological and psychological components of love. Most of the interviews were prearranged, but they also got great stuff from a group of bikers they just met at a bar. Perhaps the most interesting thoughts came from a group of elementary school students they met at a playground.

"What's a perfect date?" Yi asked one girl.

"Take somebody to Applebees and get them 'Hot Wings,'" she immediately responds.

And then the girl, who reveals she's in love with a pop star, turns the tables on Yi.

"Alright, so, you are in love?" she demands.

"I am not in love," Yi retorts. "You are in love!"

"At least I admitted it," says the girl running away.

The making of Paper Heart all does sound like an unlikely story, but it gets even stranger. Only one company was willing to finance the film. The understanding was it would be done cheaply, and basically go straight to DVD.

However somehow it got shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and evoked such a strong audience reaction that now it's getting a theatrical release.

"It's very weird and surreal," says Yi.

But fun too, she says. They are touring the country doing publicity, and hearing even more stories about love. Charlyne Yi says she's changed her views, and understands love often comes from within.

But she admits she's still a little cynical about love