A few years ago, stand-up comic Iliza Shlesinger shared a story about a man she met on a plane whom she ended up dating. The hook of the story, which was told on TV was that he claimed that he was a Yale graduate and managed a hedge fund, with neither fact being true. Told in Iliza’s perceptive and insightful style, that story could elicit a few chuckles even though its still confusing for a 21st century audience on how a basic background check isn’t possible for someone you’re dating seriously. Still, it makes for a good set on stage. Does it make for a 90 minute rom-com on Netflix? Forgive the pun but it seems that’s only ‘good on paper.’
What is the story about?
I’ve given you most of what takes up this “mostly true story.” Shlesinger is Andrea Singer, a stand up comic and struggling actress who falls in love with Dennis (Ryan Hansen), a man who basically “cuttle-fishes” her just for an ego trip. Everything goes well till the lies and deception in Dennis’ stories start to slip through the cracks. The only person who sees it coming for a while is Andrea’s best friend, Margot (Margaret Cho) who helps her reach closure.
‘Good on Paper’ is your typical alternate take on romance in contemporary society, and the usual tropes that plague the romcom genre, perhaps due to the fact that it comes from a stand up source, a place which now has no choice but to be edgy and alternative. I don’t mean this as a criticism at all, though, because they are welcome changes to the usually repetitive and tame meet-cutes. For instance, Andrea is completely unattracted to Dennis and most of the film points him out as “ugly.” She rejects his advances to become seriously committed several times before they get together eventually. And both the characters are broken or messed up in their own way, giving us a far from perfect picture than rose-tinted romcoms.
But this also means that the film isn’t particularly successful in setting itself up for the final plot twist. Dennis is strange, Andrea says it several times. Hence, he becomes strange and undesirable for us from the get-go. There are several moments in just the first minutes of the film where one could shout at the screen, “okay, so what’s wrong with him already?” which means that when ‘Good on Paper’ throws us a major curveball, we already know that this guy was only good on paper. The film is narrated through a voice-over which moonlights as a stand-up set. The end goal is to have a stand-up set and not a film. Every scene in ‘Good on paper’ is a step to get to its bizarre climactic sequence where Shlesinger will be able to use feminist keywords that make the film feel cool. Her stand up is, as I have mentioned before, insightful. But the writing of ‘Good on Paper’ also presents a lot of problematic takes on gender politics, the excuse being, “men do it too” which honestly can’t be an excuse at all.
Shlesinger is a charming personality, even if her stand-up doesn’t seem all that funny. There are moments during the film where she plays the not-so-fictitious, usually having a meltdown, where she is far funnier though. Still, she makes complete sense as a romcom heroine even if it's not in a proper romcom. It’s refreshing for us to see a heroine who embraces her flaws but not for showmanship but more as points to improve upon. The trouble is that we don’t know of this personality enough to root for her when things get weird. Thankfully, we’re not rooting for Dennis from the get-go either but he hardly qualifies as a character of depth in this hell-of-a-date story. There’s a lot more that I could see Margaret Cho doing. Rebecca Rittenhouse comes in as the supposed rival to Andrea, Serrena, but we end up finding her to be mostly sweet, harmless and affable by the end.
Music & Other Departments
Like most indies of this level of production value, the film is average to look at and has a usual lineup of pop songs as a soundtrack.
‘Good on Paper’ has a worthy indie cast which has the ability to elevate snappy writing, if they had it. Most of the actors are really charming and fit into the strange milieu that makes this film.
The screenplay is really choppy and the final act of the film is beyond ludicrous. Beyond the usual “we want to make a romcom which is different than most romcoms.” I don’t see any of it coming through in execution. I have no idea what the writing intended would come out of the second half of the film, which makes no sense. Most of the stand-up could border on being thought-provoking but really isn’t funny.
Did I enjoy it?
I can’t say that I was bored. But I sat through the film without any application of my brain.
Do I recommend it?
Not really. There’s a really good script for Schlesinger in the near future, and this one wasn’t the greatest first step.