This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.
Good on Paper (2021)
Written by Iliza Shlesinger
Directed by Kimmy Gatewood
I want to welcome Bekah as our newest patron even though her first pick was…this movie. I can’t say I’ve ever listened to much of stand-up Iliza Shlesinger’s comedy, so I felt neutral about her going into this viewing. In the last decade, I’ve shifted to listening to podcasts hosted by comedians more than listening to their stand-up, so unless someone appears as a guest on one of those, I don’t really know much about their comedic perspective. Good on Paper opens with Ilza playing a version of herself doing stand-up. I found myself chuckling at the bit, a bit of deception as the film would probably have been better as just a comedy special. Instead, we get a tonal mess in its place.
Andrea Singer (Shlesinger) is a comedian and struggling actress. While flying back to LA after a failed audition, Andrea ends up sitting next to Dennis (Ryan Hansen). Dennis is a hedge fund manager who happens to also live in LA, and the two begin a friendship that has them hanging out daily. It becomes increasingly clear that he has feelings for Andrea, but she isn’t attracted to him in that way. However, one particular night reverses all of this, and Andrea finds herself suddenly drawn to him and wanting to be in a relationship. Her friend Margot (Margaret Cho) begins to suspect that Dennis has been lying about the extraordinary aspects of his life, but Andrea says she’s crazy. That is until Andrea begins investigating his claims and quickly finds that Dennis is not the person he claims to be.
The plot of this film comes from a lengthy monologue Shlesinger gave for Comedy Central, and it’s not a terrible seed of an idea to base a movie on. And Shlesinger herself is the best thing about the picture. She has a genuine charisma that you need to be a compelling actor. She allows her character to be the butt of many jokes, posturing as someone who isn’t a fool, only to be oblivious to Dennis’s ongoing scam. Ryan Hansen was familiar to me from Veronica Mars & Party Down, two shows on which he did a good job. Here he’s still okay, playing a weird combination of dorky and charming. You can’t really see why Andrea would end up with Dennis, though, as he does play him with enough abrasive elements that he’s pretty gross. I didn’t care for a moment where a body double was used to emphasize how his body, because he’s slightly overweight makes him unattractive. Shlesinger’s voiceover tries to make excuses by saying men do that to women all the time and that she’s a really good person, but it’s such an odd moment in the movie. At a minimum, they could have cast an overweight actor rather than use a body double.
The film’s structure uses Shlesinger’s voiceover, reflecting back on the events, to fill in gaps which isn’t the sign of great filmmaking, but I see why it is there. This movie is not trying to be anything significant; it’s just another Netflix picture to toss on the pile. However, the second half of the film goes so far off the rails that I was stunned at how tonally inconsistent. For the most part, the story is playing out on fairly realistic terms with some romantic-comedy tropes sprinkled in there. Then it takes a marked shift near the end as both Andrea and Margot suddenly lose all connection to reality, and the movie devolves into a mix of diatribes about manipulative men and the torture of Dennis. It feels like the intent was to make an anti-rom-com, but the way the film gets there is so bizarre and not entertaining. At one moment, we have Dennis being brutalized by the women played as slapstick. I don’t necessarily have any problems if you stay with it. Instead, we then snap into Shlesinger delivering passionate, sincere monologues about how women are fed with being gaslit by men. I have no problem with any underlying ideas here, but their delivery in the script and on the screen is cringingly clunky.
Ultimately, Good on Paper doesn’t really work as a critique of romantic comedies. Shlesinger ends up being so unlikable by the end of the film that I can’t imagine the audience having empathy for anyone involved in the situation. We’re clearly meant to side with her, but she’s gone so extreme that we can’t help but wish these people would simply disappear. In addition, the farcical elements clash with the attempts to ground the film in a genuine examination of modern relationships. Having watched many Preston Sturges films a couple of years back, I found that farce operates best when you emphasize the comedy and don’t lean too heavily on the sentiment. It works to an extent in Sullivan’s Travels, but most of Sturges’ work is not concerned with lessons learned. Good On Paper wants to be raucous and anarchic yet also wants to make a profound statement, and you can’t really do the two without extreme deftness.