We’ve all seen the clichéd, superficial Hollywood movies that purport to know the meaning of “true love.” The new romantic comedy Paper Heart, however, offers a refreshingly unique take on the subject.
The movie follows comedienne/actress Charlyne Yi (of Knocked Up, who also co-wrote the script), as she makes a documentary about the concept of love by going on a cross-country journey across America, talking to an eclectic array of real-life people about the meaning of love. During her journey, Yi discovers true love for herself when she begins dating Superbad‘s Michael Cera, playing himself (and whom Yi supposedly had a real-life relationship with) in a scripted romance. Seamlessly integrating real interview footage with hilarious scripted moments, the genre-bending Paper Heart is sure to delight fans of quirky, offbeat romantic comedies.
Just before the movie’s release, MM caught up with co-writer-director Nicholas Jasenovec (who’s actually a character in the film, played by Jake Johnson) to discuss his intriguing, idiosyncratic Paper Heart.
Kyle Rupprecht (MM): You worked on the film for several years with your good friend Charlyne Yi. In preparing the movie, when did you decide it might not work as (or would be more interesting than) a straight documentary?
Nicholas Jasenovec (NJ): Charlyne originally wanted to make a documentary about love and remain behind the camera. She asked me for help and we began developing the idea together. Early on, she mentioned that her disbelief in the idea of love was a big part of why she wanted to explore the topic and I felt that was an important element to include. So we decided she should be on camera and that the audience should experience the film through her eyes. Then we started talking about what the arc of the film would be and the ideal outcome would be that Charlyne would change and understand love at the end of the process.
In order to understand love, we realized she would need to actually experience it. The odds of that happening while we were shooting were slim, so that’s when we came up with the idea of scripting a fictional romance for Charlyne’s character. We thought it would be interesting to present a realistic fictional romance alongside the documentary footage of real people and couples. Hopefully they would complement each other.
MM: Were there any movies you looked at for inspiration in crafting the very unique tone of Paper Heart???
NJ: For inspiration, I watched a lot of documentaries and love stories. Werner Herzog, in particular, was a big influence because of how he plays with truth and fiction in his work. On the other end of the spectrum, Charlyne had me watch Far and Away because that was one of her favorite love stories and I had never seen it. I don’t think that influenced the film though.
MM: Was the blending of fiction and reality a difficult balancing act?
NJ: It was difficult because we wanted the fictional elements to feel as realistic as the documentary elements—or as close as possible—so we used a limited amount of setups and mostly natural lighting, mimicking the two-camera approach we had used on the doc portions. We had the actors improvise the scenes off of an outline and kept the number of takes to a minimum. And we occasionally had to rewrite the scenes on the spot to keep things feeling as organic as possible, so the story was constantly evolving. We broke our own rules once or twice, but for the most part those scenes were shot exactly like the documentary sections.
MM: Why did you decide to have an actor play yourself in the movie? Is it an odd experience having yourself be a character in the film???
NJ: Well, I am a terrible actor. We were all working so hard to create a reality in those scripted scenes that I didn’t want to compromise them with my weaknesses as an actor, so it was an easy decision. And the character of “Nick” isn’t that similar to the real me, so it wasn’t too odd of an experience. He has to say and do things I wouldn’t necessarily do for purposes of moving the story forward. So we actually had a lot of fun with the character at times, sort of making him that cliché independent film director that puts himself in his movie. But, ultimately, the character worked best as an on-screen friend for Charlyne, so she didn’t have to talk directly to the camera to get information across.
MM: What do you hope viewers take away from the movie on the nature of love? Did making Paper Heart change your own perceptions of the concept???
NJ: Love is definitely a subjective emotion, but hopefully with the variety of stories and views we present, everyone can find something to relate to in the film. So I think different people will take different meanings away from the film. And maybe people with their own doubts will find hope in Charlyne’s story.
For me, I really enjoyed and connected to Mike Modrak’s story. In the interview, he seemed extremely confident in his ideas on true love and who he shared it with. But later, when he tells us his story of nearly dying, I felt like he was realizing on camera that maybe he was wrong. And I think a lot of people can relate to that uncertainty.
Making the film didn’t necessarily change my own perceptions on the subject, but I was definitely inspired by meeting all of these amazing people and hearing their stories. I hope it will have the same effect on audiences.
MM: What’s up next for you? Would you be interested in making another movie in the genre-bending style of Paper Heart?
NJ: Charlyne, Jake Johnson and I are writing a pilot for HBO right now. It’s going really well and I hope we get to shoot it. I’m also writing a feature with Bill Hader that I hope will be my next film.
The style and approach to Paper Heart was really dictated by the story we set out to tell. It worked well for this particular idea, but I don’t know if it would work for most movies. But I do think I will apply some of the techniques from this film in future projects, especially the sense of energy and experimentation.
Visit http://www.paperheart-movie.com for more information and showtimes.