Directed by: Kimmy Gatewood
Premise: Based on a true story. A successful standup comedian (Iliza Shlesinger) meets an average but nice guy (Ryan Hansen) who may not be what he appears.
What Works: Good on Paper is fundamentally a romantic comedy but one that turns the formula inside out. Most of these movies work toward getting the couple together but Good on Paper begins there and finds the drama in breaking up. This is a story of a woman gradually realizing that her boyfriend is not the man she thought he was and the picture hinges upon the credibility of the relationship. The story does an effective job establishing the boyfriend the way that Iliza Shlesinger’s character perceives him and dropping hints that could be red flags but might just be misunderstandings. Those incongruities gradually stack up and become impossible to ignore, leading Shlesinger’s character to finally acknowledge the truth. Part of the reason the film’s misdirection works as well as it does in the performance by Ryan Hansen. He makes the boyfriend character likable and even sympathetic, at least early on, which makes his relationship with Shlesinger’s character believable. His lies are born of insecurity rather than overt malevolence and he’s ultimately a pitiful character. In that respect, Good on Paper is an incisive portrait of a quiet kind of misogyny.
What Doesn’t: Good on Paper was written Iliza Shlesinger and the film is based on actual events from her life. It’s ironic then that Shlesinger’s performance is one of the film’s weakest elements. The filmmakers seem aware of this; Shlesinger is a much better standup comic than she is as an actress and the movie acknowledges that and makes some jokes of it. But that self-awareness doesn’t make up for the weakness at the center of the film. Shlesinger is convincing enough playing a fictionalized version of herself but she never allows the character to be vulnerable. This is a story about heartbreak and betrayal but the film never really gets to those emotional places. Shlesinger falls back on her tough stage persona rather than digging into her character. It undercuts her participation in the story; it’s unclear how Shlesinger’s character has grown or what insight the audience should gain from her experience. The film is also hindered by an inconsistent tone. Good on Paper is at times quite grounded and realistic but at other points it plays like a sketch comedy show. Like Shlesinger’s performance, the film switches its tenor whenever it treads toward substance, running away from any potentially real moments.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Good on Paper is occasionally funny but the movie never quite satisfies the emotional needs of its premise. Iliza Shlesinger is a good standup comic and proves herself a competent dramatist but as an actress she’s too self-conscious.
Episode: #862 (August 1, 2021)