With almost every teen in American harboring a secret crush on Cera, the tabloids couldn’t help themselves; they proclaimed Yi and Cera an item, rocketing Paper Heart from a tiny DIY film to a Sundance catchphrase.“We were never together,” Yi says. And thank God, because it would be devastating to promote this film if I was heartbroken.”“We were never together,” Yi says of Cera. And thank God, because it would be devastating to promote this film if I was heartbroken.” While the Cera rumors may not be true, Yi—who got her start as a performance artist and goofy standup comedienne on the L. circuit—acknowledges that being considered “the girlfriend” has done her plenty of favors.
And yet, she says, she doesn’t know the first thing about love.“That’s why I decided to make this movie,” she says.
Yi took the idea to her filmmaker friend Nick Jasenovec, who agreed to direct, but suggested that the film might need a more personal arc.
So he proposed that Yi put herself on camera as the interviewer, and that she also fall in love over the course of the film.“Because of lack of time and lack of interest of exposing my love life or dating on camera, I agreed to do it, but had to be the character of ‘Charlyne’ rather than myself,” Yi explains. When we are going on these awkward dates, it wasn’t intended that way, we just didn’t know what to say so we talked about mundane stuff like food.
I got all kinds of amazing anecdotes, and I thought, so many movies about love are fictional, what if we went on the road and made one that is real?
I originally intended to make a simple documentary, just full of interviews.”This is where the premise of Paper Heart starts to get a little complicated.
“I met this one couple who had been married for years and discovered an old picture in an attic,” she says.
“They had been at the same party when they were young and never met!
Yi and her ilk are on to something: that discomfort can be as entertaining as slapstick, or at least cut closer to the bone for most of us.Best of all, Yi is so aggressively open and normal that she could be anyone you know—quiet, creative, strangely funny—who just happened to make a film with her friends as one of many projects.She’s just lucky that with her friends, the film will put her, “girlfriend” or not, at the center of Hollywood’s comedy universe.The comedienne is wearing low-top sneakers, a scraggly ponytail, and a baggy T-shirt—one of many outfits in her tomboy oeuvre.“I have guy friends who have been dating a girl for six months and our other friends don’t know her name. ’ And I want to scream, ‘OK, her name is Sally, and she’s awesome, and you’ve known her for months. ’”It’s no surprise that Yi, 23 years old, should feel vexed by this classification.
Although she is certainly rising as a writer and actress in her own right—and her debut film, Paper Heart, out this weekend, should cement that—the reason we are sitting together in a sterile glass box is her various stints as someone’s “girlfriend.”First there was Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, in which she came out of nowhere to play the adorable stoner girlfriend hanging around Seth Rogen’s apartment. When Yi and Cera started filming Paper Heart, they both played fictional versions of themselves—falling in love.As “Charlyne” travels the country and speaks to children and adults, awkwardly falls for Michael, performs puppet shows, sings a twee love song into her computer, and finally has a meltdown in Paris about her inability to open up and fall for someone, the audience is never sure how much is coming from Yi and how much is conjecture. “I would never film myself, or feel comfortable exposing my life,” she says. The screen Charlyne doesn’t talk about how she feels, and I think I talk too much about how I feel, and I think I’m very transparent. I had to play deadpan and cut down on doing this sing-song thing with my words.”Still, a lot of the “real” Charlyne does come through in the film.