Sundance – or more specifically, the corporate entities that cast a shadow upon the Park City festival – they like Michael Cera and what he represents: a bit aloof but playfully so, untarnished, attracts young audiences who aren’t clinging to their pocketbooks as tightly as those of us in self-imposed spending freezes, hoping for layoff-proof winter hibernation. Ten, even five years ago, a non-imposing, lightweight, good kid like Cera, or a conversely cuddly bear like Seth Rogen wouldn’t have had a legit shot as a romantic lead or a heavy-lifter in an ensemble cast. In 2008 he’s a New Hollywood Cutie, and no one is complaining.
And then there’s Charlyne Yi – a comic who’s been compared to both Andy Kaufman and Pee Wee Herman, and was on Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch list last year. Premiering at Sundance, the half-documentary, half scripted comedy, Paper Heart – in which the 32 year-old embarks on a quest (involving real-life boyfriend Cera) to find the meaning of true love (even though she doesn’t believe in it) – is just as much a Charlyne Yi vehicle as it is a Michael Cera vehicle.
For the sake of debate, let’s just say the film will be well received – not thinking in terms of whether it’s a Sundance hit – just that it’s funny and heartwarming and cozy and the filmgoers and critics who caught it at the festival walked away satisfied. Now, let’s pretend that in place of Michael Cera there was some cute, but not-as-famous face, and the still well received film relies mostly on Yi’s talents. Would it still have a chance to become the next Juno or Little Miss Sunshine – the crossover hit that the studios will gladly bankroll with the millions required to jam the name of this film down your airpipe and in your ear? I really want to know.
I have it in my mind that audiences are ready for a still sorta-young lead actress that falls outside the parameters of what we’re used to seeing in a teen magazine photoshoot subject, but can the same be said of the moguls? It’s not likely that the unapologetically geeky Yi is going to remove her glasses and shake her hair loose in one motion to reveal some other person in Paper Heart, or in any off-screen situation for that matter. Are the faux-indie studios grownup enough to back a quirkster comedienne like Yi in roles that transcend “Partygoer” (Cloverfield), Stoner Jodi (Knocked Up) and Wheelchair Jody (Semi-Pro)? If she wants it, could she join the boys of the New Hollywood Cutie elite as a bankable starlet? Could a Charlyne Yi type ever make Michael Cera type money? Let me know how and when.
2009 Sundance lineup (Variety)