Who cares? Well, we do, at least enough to feel as dirty as a TMZ intern. But lets try really, really hard to get our minds out of the tabloids and look at Paper Heart as a proper film with a proper director who himself has never claimed to make out with anyone from Superbad. It’s not much of one. The chronology is all off, making it look like Yi’s favorite weekend destination is Oklahoma. And Yi, though she’s a startling presence, is an anti-star. Deliberate or feigned, she doesn’t embrace the camera, she shies from it. She stands in front of the lens like it’s her first time at open mic—her shoulders are hunched, her head ducked. Yi grins enough that she looks like she’s having a good time, mostly, but clearly she’d rather pop up in cameos than carry a film.
Like a lot of post-Kaufman comics, Yi’s comedy needs the frisson of an audience. In one of her infamous stage bits, she collects dollars from the crowd and then threatens to burn the wad or give it to someone brave enough to punch her in the face. Eventually, some one takes the bait, and Yi starts crying. And then she calls them a coward. And then she might cry some more while everyone squirms in their seats. This is high wire drama balanced by Yi’s delivery, so flat and awkward that we can’t quite believe she’s scripted even when she is. There’s not a drop of Dean Martin in her—or even Steve Martin for that matter, who despite his bunny ears and ukulele always knew you knew he had the night in his pocket. There’s a purpose for comics like Yi, although I think it’ll be a few more years until we know what it is. Until then, we’re not likely to confront her in another leading role, making Paper Heart an odd curio cheered by some fantastic paper-mâché animation (by Yi herself) and a few moments when we get to see Yi’s overgrown geek girl shine—clutching onto a biker on a speeding Harley or romping with a gang of school kids who tease her about her boyfriend. Tellingly, none of her best scenes have anything to do with holding hands with Cera, which should be enough info to bore snoops with an undue interest in whether they’re holding hands for real.